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Junkyard Dog: Battling Stereotypes in 'Kalb Baladi' (2016)

Eid movies seem to have a particular reputation to them, but Emad El-Din Aysha reviews one that appears to be promising.

Just watched Kalb Baladi [Local Dog], and while a very ‘local’ film (bad language and rude gags) it’s actually really funny and a very original movie, by Egyptian standards, belonging as it does to the fantasy, comic book-type genre. It’s worth watching for other reasons too. Up and coming director Mohamed Diab – of 678 and Ishtibak fame – has openly endorsed it, contrasting it to many a foreign flop on Rotten Tomatoes. (My favourite scene was the car accident one, personally, where the hero tries to interest a girl and almost gets her killed). It’s the first time comedian Ahmed Fahmy has led by himself, without his two soul mates Chico and Hisham Magid. And it’s also the first proper cinematic appearance of Akram Hosni not playing Abu Hafeeza, and he holds himself quite well.

Polar Extremes

Kalb Baladi tells the story, nominally, of Rocky (Ahmed Fahmy), a man raised by a female dog (we don’t say ‘bitch’ in Arabic) because his burglar of a mother was indisposed at the time. He’s trying to go straight and leave the world of crime behind him but nobody is helping him – his biological mother Kawkib (Dina Mohsen), who insists on her criminal ways even after getting out of prison, his no good brother Booma (Hamdy Marghany) and, more importantly, society. (Booma means ‘owl’ in Arabic, a jinx in Arabic culture). The opening scene has Rocky in a mosque praying to God for guidance at a holy shrine, only to get into a fight with a woman asking God to take vengeance on relatives who have annoyed her over the years. (Wishing people ill is hardly the point of prayer).

They get into a fight and the sheikh who intercedes turns out to be someone who smokes hashish on his off time. And when Rocky reveals this secret, the man sets the worshippers on him because of his ‘unclean’ origins, having been raised by a dog. We’re greeted with such institutions that are doing their job also in the form of the police, thanks to the incompetent cop Baleegh (Ahmed Fathy), who gets a near sighted sharpshooter (the ubiquitous Bayoumi Fouad) as his backup on quasi-legal operations. The truth of the matter, then, is that people are the ones who have become dogs (in the bad sense of the word), while the dogs are the ones who are loyal and honest. Even the dogs of the street. And Rocky has these contradictory qualities in himself, turning into a vicious animal defending someone he loves, while being a shifty, conman type the rest of the time.

UGLY AND UGLIER: The two local boys Rocky and Booma.

So we’ve met the superhero. Enter the supervillain: the groomed Warda Al-Halawani (Akram Hosni). He’s the top drug dealer in the country but doesn’t actually trade in drugs. He uses postage stamps, slapped onto the back of the affa (nape) of the average Egyptian. The glue in the stamp has a chemical in it that tunes your nervous system radio waves from Warda’s tablet, allowing him to control people completely. And, as he himself says, this way people will buy his shares, vote for whomever he wants, and fight each other or make peace as he sees fit.

Warda’s clearly a stand-in for globalisation and Western interference. (Radio is a hint at media globalisation). He’s depicted as the spoilt, soft, upper crust individual who has ‘pets’ – unthinkable in Egyptian society – in the form of a polar bear he’s genetically altered to love the pop singer Tamer Hosni. (Didn’t Tamer support the Mubarak regime, and doesn’t he sing to Western tunes?). The bear is named Nour, no doubt over the famous Turkish series. Also note that the name Warda (technically, 'flower') is feminine – the character has longish hair and does dance routines – and the name of the famous (Algerian) singer Warda Al-Gazairiyah. The supervillain is also portrayed as a bad father, telling his (overweight) son gory, overly realistic stories before going to bed. (Hence, the need for fantasy in our lives). Later you have the polar bear itself getting drunk and partying with attractive foreign girls. (Warda feels more responsible towards his pet than towards his son).

Girls Not in Power

No comic book caper would be complete, of course, without the damsel in distress in the form of the veterinarian Zabargad (Nada Moussa). That may be a very archaic Arabic name, but there’s nothing archaic about her looks, with her crinkly hair and luscious lips, and her live-alone lifestyle. Then again, that’s the whole point. She watches either religious movies or childhood fantasies – she always wanted to be the kidnapped heroine that gets rescued by Prince Charming – and never did anything improper with all the boys she ‘knew'. That’s whole reason she prefers dogs to people, having been betrayed by so many men professing their love for her.

SIGNATURE ROLE: Nada Moussa, from the crow's nest to the unpronounceable veterinarian.

I ‘suppose’ the message is that we should be selective in our imports from the big, bad West in our half-hearted attempts to develop ourselves. Cruelty to animals is one of our failings and so something we can fix by engaging with the outside world. Being open and honest about who we love and not worrying about your status in society; Rocky pretends to be a cop when he meets her to try and wed her, if not bed her. And Rocky foils Warda’s diabolical plans by leading the dogs of Egypt against the brainwashed Egyptians with the stamps on the affas.

COMIC DEPARTURE: Will this be the last of Akram Hosni's Abu Hafeeza?

Notice that he’s called Rocky, of Sylvester Stallone fame? And there’s even a scene where his mother does martial arts to beat the bad guys, and Booma says this is a ‘Bruce Lee’ routine. So, all in all, a cosmopolitan entertainment romp. It’s also a welcome change from the movies original made by Kalb Baladi’s director, Moataz El Tony, such as his annoying debut, Africano (2001), and the ultra-nationalistic Italia’s War/Harb Italia (2005).

It’s also good to see the sci-fi, fantasy, comic book genre finally taking root here, beginning with Sameer, Shaheer & Baheer (2010), and The Hibiscus [Enaab] Man (2013). Once people start learning to imagine the future to fix what’s wrong with the world as it is today – and Egypt in store for a whole lot of rehabilitation – the sky’s the limit!