Lamh el-Basar (The Glimpse, 2009), Youssef Hisham‘s first feature film was shown Tuesday at El-Gomhurriya theater as part of Egypt’s 16th National Film Festival. Hisham’s first long feature deals with the same theme of his earlier, shorter works: Truth.
Lamh el-Basar tells the story of a young man who comes to Cairo to meet his future father-in-law, and ends up counterfeiting money, selling drugs, and committing murder all within 24 hours. The storyline is based on Al-Leqa (The Encounter), a short story by Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. Yet the plot does not lead to a climax because the viewer suspects from the first few scenes that renowned Egyptian actor Hussien Fahmy, one of the lead characters, is none other than his future father-in-law in disguise.
The opening scene of the film is long and the greed and desperation of Ahmed Hatem (the young actor who plays the lead role) comes across as unjustified, particularly as he is portrayed as being rich. Hatem’s character is madly in love with a girl he met 15 years ago, though this hardly seems enough to trust a complete stranger who makes him steal, forge and kill. In the end, Hatem’s character is too naive to be believable.
Lamh el-Basar focuses on the theme of trust. The father wants to test the character and capabilities of the young man who has proposed to his daughter. In a fairytale, the father asks the suitor to obtain a magical item or a rare flower. Here, Fahmy tests Hatem’s capabilities by asking him to pass three tests: white (heroin), green (forged dollars), and red (murder). Hatem’s ordeal tests the right to manipulate the truth in order to know someone’s true personality. Can one trust this father’s judgement ? Is the young protagonist who fell into the trap of temptation really to be blamed? Wasn’t he tricked? Didn’t it all turn out to be a silly game?
Despite its deficiencies, this film is a good start to Hisham’s career making feature films. As expected, it raises lots of questions and seldom answers any, leaving the audience vast room for interpretation, a rare treat in Egyptian cinema.