x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017


The interlocking stories of five children, this film by Ahmad Abdalla is rather uneven.

Director: Ahmad Abdalla
Starring: Khaled Abol Naga, Hany Adel and Yousra El Louzy

Cinema has a long history of using intertwining stories to try to create a patchwork picture of a city. Godard did it in Two of Three Things I Know About Her, with the "her" being Paris, while Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth looked at five cities in one night.

Heliopolis takes the approach of Robert Altman in the interlocking of five stories about children set during one night in the Egyptian quarter on the outskirts of Cairo. The hand-held camera is reminiscent of the French New Wave as many of the aesthetic choices are based on the materials at the filmmakers' disposal rather than any coherent plan.

The first-time director Abdalla has worked mostly as an editor and he dexterously cuts together the different strands to paint a picture of a place with a glorious past that has stagnated since the 1952 revolution.

Although shot in 2009, the sentiment and yearnings of the characters from an old Jewish lady (Aida Abdel Aziz) to young musician Dr Hany (Adel) highlight a sense of collective frustration. The standstill nature is a clear metaphor when Maha (Aya Soliman) and Ali (Atef Yousef) get stuck in a traffic bottleneck. The music is well chosen and helps smooth over some of the unevenness of the acting and storylines.