Emad El-Din Aysha heads to the cinema to check out the latest Egyptian football/comedy/belly-dancing/musical movie to hit the silver screen...
It's always amazing the kind of cultural lessons you can glean from a movie, no matter how bad the movie. Hence we have Welad Harifa, which is for some reason translated by some as Professional Girls! What you have, from start to finish, is Egyptian men being slapped, either on the face or the affa (back of the neck), more often than not by women. I'm sure you've all heard about what happened in Jordan to an Egyptian migrant worker there. Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
The story, in so far as there is one – they literally made up the script while they were filming the movie – is about an aspiring football coach named Sibai (Mohamed Lotfy) who, typically, can't afford to get married. His sweetheart, Usha (singer turned actress Boussy), in even more typical, form is commitment to him, since he's her cousin, while her decrepit old dad tries to parcel her off to whomever can pay up. The girl has a passion for football too but her real longing is to be a singer and belly dancer.
The strange thing is Usha's father wants his daughter to marry a singer, saying that footballing is no longer a respectable profession that can bring in decent money. Sibai's own football club (of misfits and halfwits) is owned by a gazaar (butcher), played reasonably well by seasoned comedian Bayoumi Fouad (Dahi). There's a scene where Dahi 'bails' Sibai out of prison, only to end up in prison himself – a hint at police corruption, perhaps? That would be fine were it not for the fact that Dahi himself is not a nice guy, since he wants to use the football stadium for his cattle herds, while Sibai's crew are all into the more respectable singing and dancing profession.
Thematic consistency is clearly not the movie's strong point. As threadbare as the story is, you still can't follow what's going on because every five minutes or so you have to have a belly dancing, singing scene that has nothing to do with what's going on in the film.
Then the politics creeps up on you unawares. To make the down payment for his marital plans, Sibai's unseemly friends blackmail the head of the football league, the aptly named Ezz (Samy Maghawry), photographing him with a – yes – belly dancer. Money isn't enough, however, as Sibai wants to be the trainer for the national team. He dons a blond wig and a foreign name to conceal his identity.
Ezz goes along but insists that Sibai also coach the woman's team and fill it with girls incapable of winning a single match. He goes along at first then his conscience gets the better of him – after squeezing even more cash out of Mr. Ezz and squandering it all on the wedding ceremony – and insists on winning, for the sake of the country and the sake of the poor.
Ironically it's the lesser characters in the movie that are the more likeable and important. There's the attar (a perfume maker) who's the doctor for the team, played by Soliman Eid. He's the resident wiseman and makes good observations about the amorality of society, while also behaving himself around the girls. Samy Maghawry isn’t half bad himself and has some of the better lines in the movie, noting that if the country had any real goodness in it then they wouldn't chain cups to water coolers in the street. He's got a point there, you have to admit.
As to why he wants the woman's team to lose, Ezz explains that the more successful you are the more in the spotlight you are, making it harder and harder to get away with corruption – bribes and commissions and electoral payoffs. Imagine all that, in the wacky world of football!
Still, that's no excuse for this lackluster movie. I like Mohamed Lotfy plenty but he's more suited for the role of a bodybuilder, and as gruff and rough as he is, the women here have coarser voices than the men. Safinar, playing Dahi's daughter Gawafa, isn't half bad, but her physicality eats away at the supposed 'feminist' core of the movie. The women are constantly portrayed as unruly and needing a man to keep them under control, with the compulsory dukhla scene (wedding night) that Egyptians are too fond of, where a man has to 'prove' himself in the most vulgar way possible.
Complaining about heavy-handed cops at the outset also makes no sense when everybody is slapping everybody else, with the express intent of getting a laugh from the viewers. (Nobody laughed when that guy in Jordan caved in, on Arab nationalistic grounds). The gags are all cheap – people tripping over themselves with circus like music in the background – and ugliness is paraded around as something desirable. Casting seems to have been governed by commercial concerns, putting in big names to attract a certain category of viewer even if they don’t do anything, like gratuitous singer Saad El Soghayar. He plays someone called Gamal Irsa – an irsa is a 'weasel' in Egyptian. Same goes for Safinar, I'm sad to say, especially since she was later chased out of the country on patriotic grounds – wearing a belly dancing outfit like the Egyptian flag.
So the politics are phony too. There's nothing wrong with bringing in a foreign expert (khabeer agnabi) when it comes to training your team. It happens all the time and everywhere, reveals James M. Dorsey of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and an expert blogger on the intersections between soccer and politics. Even Europeans bring in an outsider to train their top teams, he reveals. There's no inferiority complex involved, amazingly enough.
Note how the story abruptly ends with the women's team winning and no consequences coming of this, such as Mr. Ezz taking his revenge. Like I said, they made it up along the way and the patriotic stuff was no doubt thrown in there to cover up the emptiness of it all. From the laughs in the movie theatre, I'd say the people weren't 'that' titillated. Perhaps they're getting bored at seeing the same thing over and over again. This 'is' the second football comedy this year, after Captain Masr. If the Sobki's keep this up people are going to give up eating meat altogether!