Judgement Day (Yomeddine)
A road trip, a paternal bond, a trajectory of redemption: Yomeddine is conventional in many respects. But it trades on lead Rady Gamel, who plays Beshay, a man cured of leprosy but left with horrifying scars. He leads a cast of mainly nonprofessional actors, many who reportedly could not read or write. They perform admirably, while Gamel offers a barely audible pain as the tortured leper.
A B Shawky’s direction and screenplay, however, are sentimental to a fault, and by romanticising Beshay’s path to contentment he simplifies and universalises anguish that is particular. Some aesthetic choices – particularly the slow-motion sequences – seem to overstate and sanitise his experiences.
Beshay has never left his leper colony, located in Northern Egypt. His wife is hospitalised with an unspecified mental illness while he ferrets through garbage for discarded goods. He befriends a local orphan boy –coyly nicknamed Obama (Ahmed Abdelhafiz) – beginning a journey to meet Beshay’s family who long abandoned him. A donkey is their only physical and moral support.
The father-son relationship is a popular trope of adventure fiction, and this film owes a lot to the romance genre. Crudely presented flashbacks use saturated colours and hokey focusing to interrogate Beshay’s dreams, and the various characters he and Obama meet en route range from the obscenely ignorant to stereotypical samaritans. Omar Fadel’s score swoons and admonishes to exhaustion, while Shawky confusingly invests in the divide between Islam and Christianity, on which the title seems to rest (Yomeddine literally translates to Judgement Day).
This is an unashamed crowd-pleaser and we side with Beshay during his travails. His head-scratching articulates a personal grief. Obama’s sense of loss is similarly affecting. Both are undoubtedly human, but Shawky’s explicit reference to David Lynch’s The Elephant Man encourages an uncomfortable observation. The experience of leprosy isn’t equivalent to all suffering. This isn’t a question of degree but of unique experience. One scene makes plain Beshay’s kinship to a group of misfits, or “monsters”. To suggest the effects of leprosy are like that of dwarfism or of paraplegia demeans rather than humanises the subject. Shawky offers this glib universalism throughout: it makes us feel good superficially, and with that the meaning is superficial, too.
Judgement Day (Yomeddine) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Judgement Day (Yomeddine) here: