Written by Amir Scandar, New Media, DFI
Film: Rassayel El Bahr (Messages from the Sea)
Director: Daoud Abdel Sayed
Stars: Sam Mounir, Basma Ahmad, Mohamed Lotfy, Asser Yassin
Genre: Drama, Romance
Set in Alexandria, ‘Rassayel El Bahr’ (‘Messages from the Sea’) is a story as smooth as a piece of dark chocolate: light, yet bold and very fulfilling. Writing about ‘Rassayel El Bahr’ makes me think of my grandmother’s favourite Mcetkh perfume, ‘Amarige’; warmly surrounded with the old Florentine buildings of Alexandria, and the soft piano melodies flowing from the windows of its cafes. ‘Rassayel El Bahr’ is not a story about individuals, but it instead addresses more of a philosophical question that every human being at some point asks themselves – who am I?
The story follows Yahia (Asser Yassin) who moves from Cairo to his family’s flat in Alexandria after the death of his mother. Yahia has a stutter, which creates a sort of shield around him that isolates him from the society. He has lived most of his life semi-dependent on his mother and brother, but when his mother passes away and his brother moves to the United States, he finds himself alone. The need to look after himself, to have his own private life and experience new things, sees him embark on a journey to find his own identity, and ultimately, to accept himself.
The move to Alexandria reignites old memories of Yahia’s ex-girlfriend, Carla (Samia Asaad), but Carla is now in love with another woman, Riham (Doa’a Higazi), which causes him a great deal of confusion. To complicate matters further, one rainy night Yahia meets Nora (Basma Ahmad), a beautiful lady hiding under an umbrella from the rain. She offers him shelter under the umbrella, and then she walks with him to his building until the rain stops. She hints that she is interested in him, and he offers her a cup of tea in his flat. She accepts, and that how their love story starts. The fact that Yahia believes she is a prostitute doesn’t stop him from falling in love with her. In actual fact, Nora is a second wife looking for security, as she is coldly treated by her husband. Like any other woman, Nora wants a man who can provide her with warmth and security – and this is what she finds in Yahia.
Basma Ahmad plays this role very well. Her character makes you feel like she is the butterfly of the film, fragile and beautiful. It is as if Yahia’s sun can’t rise unless Nora opens her window and takes a look at his life. Similarly, Asser Yassin makes you adore his character as well. His mature, responsible yet child-like warmth gives you the absolute comfort to feel connected with him. He is like a big child – honest, not artificial.
The film is remarkably beautiful. The fact that every one of the characters is looking for the same thing – security – makes you feel attached to them. I admire the way Director Daoud Abdel Sayed portrays their love story. It is very healthy. There is a fair exchange of care, understanding, security, and satisfying comfort. Even though, through most of the film, we believe that the relationship between them is between a costumer and a prostitute, you can still easily see the amount of love and loyalty between them. Whatever obstacles they face, they never disappoint each other as they jump between having a relationship of two lovers, to a relationship of a parent and a son, or a daughter.
The story is completely different with Carla and her girlfriend Riham. The relationship was totally within the borders of sexuality, and I don’t think this is fair. Both of them are two respectful women with interesting lifestyles, so why do they talk in this provocatively sensual way? This is a question I wish the Director could answer. Is it the need for another stereotype in our culture? It is a good step for Egyptian Cinema to be openly discussing homosexuality, but I think it should be discussed out of the stereotypical image. It should be shown in the way the relationship between Yahia and Nora is represented.
Yahia also strikes up a friendship with the childish bodyguard Qabeel (Mohamed Lotfy), who is like a child jailed in an ugly muscular bodyguard body with a surly face. Qabeel is a guardian angel for Yahia, who looks after him. During the course of the film, we discover that Qabeel has a brain tumour and must have surgery to save his life. He is told, however, that it will affect his memories, and this brings up a major dilemma in the film. I love Mohamed Lotfy’s acting for this role, especially when he asks Yahia if his face scares people. He asks him with a sappy face and puppy-dog eyes, and this combination, with his bold features, creates a beautiful contrast which I think anchors him and the viewer. When he discovers that his surgery will cost him his memories, his insecurity is sincere – he feels that, with the loss of his memories, he will also lose himself. Finally, he decides to go ahead with the surgery after his girlfriend convinces him, reassuring him that she will write all his memories down, and will remind him of everything when he wakes. That is, if he remembers her!
Lastly, I must mention the bottled letter Yahia finds on the seashore. The letter is written in a strange language that no-one can read, and its story extends all through the film, carrying a philosophical message. It represents the human soul that no-one can understand. It could be from a sailor to his family, or a piece of poetry, or a monk’s prayer, or even just someone fooling around. The only assured thing is that it is a message from the sea to humankind. The message and the way it is represented is really interesting, but while it is artistic, it is also not completely necessary.
‘Rassayel El Bahr’ is a thought-provoking film that manages to maintain its beautiful Alexandrian scent while tackling sensitive subject matters and exploring the philosophical side of life.