Written by Kaleem Aftab.
Film: Café Regular, Cairo
Director: Ritesh Batra
One of the hardest things to do in cinema is hold the interest of the audience for a long dialogue heavy scene. It’s why the first scene of Quentin Tarantino’s otherwise disappointing “Inglorious Basterds” was so feted. In some ways Ritesh Batra’s short film is even more remarkable than Tarantino’s opening, because the American director had Melanie Laurent under the floorboards as a third cog in the wheel. Café Regular, Cairo simple has a man and woman sitting at an outside table in a quiet café in Cairo.
It starts with Mai (Mai Abozeed) a young lady clad in headscarf sitting waiting at a table. Her male friend Alaa (Alaa Ezzat) arrives and it’s obvious that they are close from the simple handshake they give each other as he sits down. He asks whether she has had a nice trip and she informs him that her sister has got divorced after three years of marriage because her husband hit her. She is clearly worried about the divorce rate climbing in Egypt and talks about how impressionable it was when she met some tourists speaking frankly and intimately with each other on a train.
Batra effortless portrays that this is a changing Egypt where old social codes are being abandoned. The way the conversation rolls from one subject to another over the course of ten minutes has nods to Abbas Kiarostami and Oscar winner Asghar Farhardi as does the refusal to shy away from transgression. Her motives are initially hard to second guess, but become obvious without exposition. This is mostly down to the performances, especially Abozeed and also of good directing, that flits between master shot and close-up effortlessly. Batra is very much a talent to watch.