The Chicken Man

The Egyptian Chekhov Shines in Cannes
The Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy during the premier of 'Feathers' that won the Grand Prize (Getty Images)

Young Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy, who was born in 1988, made headlines this week as he won the Critics’ Week Award at the Cannes International Film Festival 2021 for his movie “Feathers.”

The 112 minute comedy-drama film, which was shown on Tuesday at the festival and was well received by critics, was among seven films in this competition which focus mainly on a director’s  first or second work.

The film is a joint Egyptian-French-Dutch-Greek production and it is the first feature-length work of its 33-year-old director, who also contributed to the screenplay.

The film's paradoxes continue to cast a shadow of satirical criticism on social and economic problems, as well as the conditions of the breadwinner-woman. On the other hand, the Cairo Film Festival issued a statement congratulating the filmmakers, in which it said, “The Cairo International Film Festival congratulates director Omar El Zohairy for his film ‘Feathers’ receiving the grand prize in the Critics’ Week competition at the 74th session of the Cannes Film Festival, and for achieving a great achievement for Egyptian cinema, as it is the first time an Egyptian film wins this award.”

“I believe that in cinema you need to show the audience something that they’ve never seen before in their life, but they need to see it through you,” says El Zohairy, who previously worked as an assistant director for some giants of Egyptian filmmaking, including Yousry Nasrallah Omar, Ahmed Abdullah, Yousry Nasrallah and Kamila Abu Zekry. He said about his experience with them, that despite his young age, "I gained a great technical aspect in dealing with filmmaking, which enables me to work as a director in a professional manner. But the technical and human level varies according to the directors."

In 2014, we learned the news of his participation for the first time in the same festival through the “Cinéfondation” competition for student films, with a film with a funny title, "The Aftermath Of The Inauguration Of The Public Toilet At Kilometer 375," and on that day France 24 described him in its news broadcast as “The Egyptian Chekhov,” perhaps because the film was based on a short novel by Russian writer Anton Chekhov.

The film "The Aftermath of the Inauguration of the Public Toilet at Kilometer 375" was the second film at the time for Omar El Zohairy, a graduate of the Higher Institute of Cinema in Egypt. The competition jury was headed by the famous Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, with Chadian director Mohamed Saleh Haroun as a member. The promising director said before the presentation that he hoped to see in this quote from Chekhov "the funny side, not the crying side," since Chekhov's story "Death of an Employee" deals with the issue of employees' submission to their officials.

Another short film he directed, entitled "Zafir", won a mention in the Muhr Arab Short Film Competition at the 8th Dubai International Film Festival. Therefore, we are in front of a really promising Director.

The Egyptian critic residing in Paris, Salah Hashem, was the first to predict that the movie "Feathers" would win the prestigious international award. Immediately after the film was shown, he wrote an article entitled “The movie ‘Feathers’ by Omar El Zohairy: A Genius Egyptian Film by a Director Who was Born Genius” on the website of the new "ISIS Cinema."

Egyptian director Omar El-Zohairy’s film “Feathers” tells the story of a mother who dedicates her life to her husband and children. (semainedelacritique.com)

He added, "Today I watched the movie "Feathers" by Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy- the first work of this director - at the "Critics Week" event. Among the important parallel cinematic events during this 74th session, I liked this brilliant movie very much and I congratulated its director.  The whole hall stood up after the show to applaud for a long time, because this ingenious movie tells about the passive mother who dedicates her life to her husband and children. Stuck in daily, repetitive, mundane chores, she had made herself as small as she possibly could. When a magic trick goes wrong at her 4-year-old son's birthday party, an avalanche of coincidental absurdities befalls the family. The magician turns her husband, the authoritarian father, into a chicken. The mother is now forced to come to the fore and take care of the family. As she tries to survive, she goes through a rough and absurd transformation in very humorous, tragic, terrifying and surreal circumstances.

The film is not told, as is the case in most Egyptian films, with words, gossip, and empty fanfare, but in it we hear the voice of a man in pain and screaming in agony in the dark, before he appears with his body on fire, in a landscape that is reminiscent of the strange worlds found in the novels of Franz Kafka. Here is where art lies: in the shot, scene and image, the cinema tape - filtered poetry - which does not make concessions or compliments to preserve its authenticity, credibility and freshness, even if some find it cruel and terrifying in its depiction of the miserable, the poor, the marginalized, the crushed, and the anguished in their daily torment in the struggle for survival.

Hashem concluded by saying: “The movie ‘Feathers’ will remain with you like a precious treasure. It is an original Egyptian movie with non-professional actors    since in ‘Feathers’ the movie itself is the hero, ‘Feathers’ is the star without hustle. It will not leave you after watching it, but will live in you, with its strange and wonderful tale - and I do not want to tell you his story and how it evolved so that it will not spoil your pleasure in watching it.”

To conclude, “Feathers” - by the young Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy- is a wonderful movie – or may be considered as a Cinema Juice - and I consider it a real addition to the development of the art of cinema itself in our country. It opens the way for the new Egyptian cinema, with all of its amazing art innovations and inventions, by a director who was born great on the planet of Cannes 74.

Congratulations to Egyptian cinema, and thanks to everyone who contributed, as it took more than 6 years to produce and direct this brilliant Egyptian film. I would nominate this for the "Golden Camera" Award in which every first film of its director participates in all official competitions and all parallel cinematic events in the 74th session.

 

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