‘Rags and Tatters’, written and directed by Ahmad Abdalla
Starring: Asser Yassin, Amr Abed, Mohamed Mamdouh
By Ben Falk
There’s not much to cheer in this, the new movie from Egyptian auteur Abdalla, which looks at the revolution against the Mubarak regime from a skewed and ultimately despairing perspective.
On the night all the prisons around Egypt are inexplicably opened, leading to a mass exodus of inmates, a nameless escapee (Asser Yassin) flees into the desert. Leaving a colleague bleeding from a bullet wound, he heads into Cairo with only his meagre belongings and a mobile phone containing footage that apparently depicts what is really going on.
The city isn’t particularly welcoming. Here, the almost-exciting scenes of youthful revolt in Tahrir Square witnessed by the rest of the world seem dull and mistaken. The streets are filled with vigilantes, the poor remain poor, caught up in a transformation that threatens their existence, yet doesn’t actually appear to change anything for them.
In fact, for Yassin’s ‘hero’, there is nothing but danger, as he moves from place to place, trying to make connections, trying to help expose the truth. In Abdalla’s world, these truths are many – complex and fractious.
The filmmaking is technically magnificent, a film full of those still, canvas-like scenes one often associates with arthouse cinema and a kinetic energy that echoes the endless citizen-journalist videos disseminated on social media throughout the conflict.
The charismatically blank Yassin barely gets to utter a word, clearly a metaphor for his kind’s lack of voice. Abdalla plays with the audio throughout – TV reports are heard crackling through broken shop windows, and bombastic speeches are bludgeoned by motorbike engines.
Playing in the London Film Festival’s Official Competition, the film’s denouement feels inevitable – a sharp contrast to other, more positive representations of the Arab Spring.
As the final scenes return to the verité style of the opening, it’s a haunting reminder of the true cost of change.