Akher ayam el Medina (In the Last Days of the City)
A moody, disturbing yet poetic tale about a filmmaker in Cairo documenting the capital before the revolution, Tamer El Said’s In the Last Days of the City is visually complex and emotionally raw. It is often difficult to watch, as there is no restraint in depicting the states of feeling caused by the harsh realities of lives ravaged by perpetual wars.
The film’s cinematography is key: a collage of images of cityscapes and people interviewed by filmmaker Khalid (Khalid Abdalla), with particularly intense close-ups of eyes and facial expressions, showing strong, often evidently repressed emotions – such as an acting teacher recalling her childhood in Alexandria with a beautiful intensity of expression and sadness. Lovely scenic shots contrast with the grittiness and turmoil of urban centres: “Poetry is everywhere, waiting to be written.”
Friends provide Khalid with footage of battle-worn life in Baghdad and Beirut, from which result vignettes of human pain and contrasting values in the cities that are crumbling around them. An interviewee tells about being kicked out her home of 60 years by developers, a friend from Baghdad describes how a child is taught to avoid stepping on corpses in the streets.
The picture might seem slightly disjointed, even incoherent at times, but this quality intensifies its reality, as to live in such an environment would conceivably create such a disorientation of thoughts and sensations. The actors are all very natural, and the camera often lingers on Khalid who artfully conveys subtly changing mind states.
With incongruous westernisation, military tyranny and a growing fundamentalist Islamic presence, turmoil reverberates and is well expressed in the movie’s vibrant and almost confusing imagery. Ominous signs of future changes prevail: protesters shouting “Islam is coming”, increasing images of street prayers and sounds of religious chanting, Khalid’s own mother – who no longer recognises him – suddenly deciding to cover her hair (“It’s God’s command”). Snippets of phrases are clues: “The word ‘Islam’ comes from the word ‘submission’.” In counterpoint are ironic visuals such as a boutique in which a man is positioning several voluptuous, realistically naked female mannequins.
A heartbreaking ode to Cairo and other beloved towns in the region, In the Last Days of the City palpitates with enormous affection, wistful longing, anguish and regret: “The city is alive. We live in Cairo. It’s a siren.”
Akher ayam el Medina (In the Last Days of the City) is released nationwide on 22nd September 2017.
Watch the trailer for Akher ayam el Medina (In the Last Days of the City) here: