x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Some like it hot, but not the Brotherhood

MP calls for ban on 'indecent' movies just when Egyptian filmmakers are returning to take risks by dealing with sex and marital issues.

CAIRO // At a time when Egyptian film critics are welcoming the return of artistic, risk-taking movies after 10 years, a Muslim Brotherhood MP is demanding that they be banned because of their frank sexual content.

Last week in parliament, Zakariya el Ganayny called on the ministry of culture to ban four films for being "indecent". "I didn't watch the movies, but their trailers that are shown on TV are horrific," said Mr el Ganayny. "More than 90 per cent of Egyptian youth are under huge pressures like unemployment, late marriage and drugs problems. Movies should have a social message and play a role in solving the society's problems and help in its development."

The movies are Sea Messages by the veteran director Dawoud Abdel Sayed; Natural Colours by Osama Fawzi; Call Me, Thank You by Khaled Youssef; and Feelings by Hany Gerges Fawzi. Mr el Ganayny lamented that the films do not belong to the "clean cinema" that has been fashionable since the 1990s. In such family-orientated cinema, movies are free from intimate scenes, even between married couples, and the emphasis is on comedy rather than social issues. Clean cinema had catered to social conservatives in a country growing increasingly religious.

The four movies Mr el Ganayny seeks to ban are controversial for their sex scenes. Many film critics welcome the four new films. They say "clean cinema" is unique to Egypt and that Egyptian filmmakers for a time chose to ignore independent, artistic cinema in favour of meet conservative guidelines and large profits. "Egyptian cinema breaks the sexual barrier," Essam Zakariya wrote recently in the independent Fagr Weekly. "All three movies address sexual issues differently in a society obsessed with sexual issues."

Natural Colours depicts the crisis of a young artist who is torn between his love of art and fear that it violates Islam, not controversial on its own, but there are love scenes between young artists that have raised eyebrows. Call Me, Thank You addresses sexual relationships in Egypt's slums. Feelings deals with sex and marital problems. The most acclaimed of the four films is Sea Messages by Sayed, who also wrote the script. The film tells the story of a medical school graduate who has an affair with a married woman and whose former girlfriend is in a homosexual relationship.

Both Sea Messages and Feelings were given an 18-and-above rating by Egyptian state censors. Sea Messages has been hailed by several critics as the best Egyptian movie in years, but this has not prevented it from causing outrage in Egypt. Religious and social conservatives argue that art can justify or promote the wrong morals and values, and that they are not against cinema as such, but are against such daring movies that address sexual issues and problems, as they see them as propagating vice and indecency. Some accuse such movies of tarnishing Egypt's image abroad.

"Those who are trying to ban movies they haven't seen, and books they haven't read - this is nonsense," Abdel Sayed said. "There is nothing called 'clean cinema'; this was a kind of propaganda. I believe there is something called art that has the freedom to address anything in an artistic way." But many Egyptians disagree with this idea of art. "I didn't watch any of these movies, and I refuse to watch any thing that I deem haram, like sex outside marriage and homosexuality," said Lina, a mother of four in Cairo. "Also it's not OK for me to watch actors and actresses in bed, even if they are playing the role of a couple, as acting as a couple doesn't mean they are, so such acting is still not religiously sanctioned."

One prominent film critic, Tarek el Shinawi, thought the sex scenes diverted from the storylines. But he was angered that his opinions were used by the Brotherhood lawmaker as a reason to ban the movies. "I would severely criticise a movie," el Shinawi said, "but through my long career as a movie critic, I never called for the banning of any movie. "As much as I oppose the slogan of 'clean cinema', I don't see that the other extreme of obscene cinema with excessive nudity and sex as the solution. We can't face 'clean cinema' with a vulgar one. The worst thing is that those who use film criticism as an ammunition to assassinate those movies." @Email:nmagd@thenational.ae