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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Film review: Egyptian comedy drama Qosty Byogaani is messy as it is charmingly sweet

The tale of luckless souls living on Cairo’s margins has its moments

Hani Ramzi, left, and Maya Nasir, right, in the new comedy-drama 'Qosty Byogaani'. Courtesy Soteer Production
Hani Ramzi, left, and Maya Nasir, right, in the new comedy-drama 'Qosty Byogaani'. Courtesy Soteer Production

The marketing team behind Qosty Byogaani (My debt hurts) have a lot to answer for. From the dire looking poster to the haphazard trailer, they elected to focus on the comedic aspect of the film instead of what it actually is, a quietly affecting drama. This should be mentioned at the outset to manage your expectations. While the film does indeed have some genuinely funny moments, they simply act as sweet respite from the confronting, and more rewarding tale of lower- class Egyptians struggling at the margins of society.

In an interesting plot device, the main character Akmal (Hani Ramzi) is a debt collector for unforgiving loan shark Nabil (Hassan Hosny). It’s a tiring existence to say the least, with Akmal cursed by the public and avoided at all costs. That said, he relishes in his sense of mission as he catches absconders hiding in cars and in the nooks and crannies of Cairo’s old city.

Akmal experiences a change of heart after one of his indebted clients passes away and he is forced to repossess a stove from the grieving widow Sawsond (Maya Nasir). Their relationship develops beyond the spiteful into something deeper than romantic, as both are bonded by “bad luck and circumstances”.

“You know what? I am so unlucky that if I win the title of unluckiest person in the world I would probably die the day before I receive it,” muses Akmal. His luckless streak begins to change when a cosmetics company hires him to collect debts from their rich and famous clients in addition to finding someone from the lower class to act as a guinea pig for their latest facial enhancing treatments – the company’s view being the better your look, the more your fin­ancial situation will improve due to better job prospects and marriage proposals.

It is at this juncture that the script by Jasmine Amr Arafa suffers from overreach: there’s the introduction of pivotal new characters linked to the medical facility, and the film’s tone suddenly shifts from wistful comedy to tense drama, which is jarring to say the least.

That said, good performances keep the film from falling apart. Ramzi’s turn as Akmal provides much of the soul of the film, while Nasir is great as the resilient Sawsond. Credit also goes to director Ayhab Lam’ey (who also worked with Ramzi in the 2015 comedy Naum Al Talat) for elevating the film above cheap laughs to achieve a resonance that lingers long after the credits roll.

Qosty Byogaani is in cinemas now. It is in Arabic with no English or French subtitles

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Updated: May 8, 2018 10:39 AM

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