Yomeddine is the critically acclaimed debut feature of Egyptian-Austrian director A.B. Shawky. Although only released in 2019, it competed at Cannes Film Festival last year and was Egypt’s hopeful entry for the 91st Academy Awards, but we all know how that turned out!
Yomeddine is about two very different outcasts who will embark on a road trip to discover their pasts and maybe find a way to live a better future. One of them is Beshay (Rady Gamal), a wise and sometimes grumpy man still living in the leper colony where he was “abandoned for the better” as a child. Despite being cured, he still carries the stigma associated with the disease and visible facial scars. The other one is a witty young orphan self-nicknamed “Obama” (played by Ahmed Abdelhafiz). The two meet at a landfill where they work or go through mountains of garbage in order to find metal, scraps or anything they can sell.
When his wife pass, Beshay decides to leave the colony and go away on a quest to find his family and origins. He packed all his belongings, or what would be necessary for his trip, on a shabby mule card, and, as he is finally hitting the road, Obama runs after him. Since nothing is holding him back at the orphanage, the young boy wants to accompany Beshay as a useful traveling companion.
“…about two very different outcasts who will embark on a road trip to discover their pasts and maybe find a way to live a better future.”
At first reluctant, considering it is going to be a difficult journey for a child without money, Beshay realizes that Obama is decided and will not change his mind. And so, the two embark on a long journey across Egypt. They will bond through the highs and lows, learn about each other and people they will encounter along the way, who, like them, are trying to survive as homeless, penniless, untouchables or simply misfits.
Shawky crafted a sincerely unique and contemporary inspirational film that yet has all the elements of a great classic story with many “old-school Hollywood” moments. In a broader way, it could be a story of anti-heroes of sorts; honorable “freaks,” people living in the street, sick and disabled, or anybody society (and often government – as seen in scenes involving the Egyptian bureaucracy) decided to judge and “label” based on their appearances, medical conditions and status, before even listening to what they have to say or how they want to define themselves.
As a cinematic experience, Yomeddine is near flawless, with a skillful direction, an engaging story, a fitting score and a captivating visual, but it particularly has to be praised for its actors. Rady and Ahmed are at the center of this film, and it is hard to believe that they are performing as they truly embodied their characters and had fantastic chemistry. In a way, it is easy to compare Yomeddine to its fellow 2018 foreign entry Capernaum as they are both focusing on an unlikely pairing and use mainly a non-professional cast to bring realism and singularity to their respective projects. They are also similar in the sense that they are telling a deeply moving personal story, yet, on an epic scale, and are tearjerkers about the bleak reality of poverty in developing countries of this region.
“…near flawless, with a skillful direction, an engaging story, a fitting score and a captivating visual, but it particularly has to be praised for its actors.”
Likewise, some will be quick to point out how films like Yomeddine use miserabilism or are ‘exploitative’ in portrayals of specific countries or areas and their inhabitants, but sometimes, there is no other way to “show” the human conditions or things that are true no matter where they happen. However, the film luminous cinematography transporting viewers to incredible locations from deserts to rivers, ancient pyramids to busy modern city streets, and its poetic or lyrical take, lessen these feelings and makes it more hopeful. (Which is, perhaps, why some would instead argue that Yomeddine tends to be too saccharine by being, in a simplistic manner, a movie chock-full of “good intentions and grand sentiments.”)
On another hand, Yomeddine is actually a really fun and entertaining road-trip movie akin to The Kid, or maybe closer to something like Nebraska, as it is somehow part-comedy, filled with numerous humorous sequences involving Obama’s jokes or the leading duo arguing and philosophizing about all things.
Foreign films are now more than ever appealing to cinephiles and mainstream audiences at large. Although, once this category (or what was accessible / easily got distribution) was mainly populated by French, Italian or other “conventional” European fares with the occasional “Asian film” (because back then, it seems to treat features from possibly the most culturally diverse continent under one banner was a thing!), we now see more diverse representations and, in recent years, Latin Cinema is finally getting its due. Especially with widely successful filmmakers who managed to break barriers in the USA . But, in contrast, a sad fact is that films from the African continent have not yet found their publics globally and, for example, in 8 decades there have only been 9 films nominated for best foreign picture… (with only 1 win for Totsi in an actual African language – the other 2 were in French!).
So, aside from being exceptional in its own right, this is also why we need more films like Yomeddine as they are deeply rooted in their cultures and yet are universal and can touch viewers worldwide.
Yomeddine (2018) Directed and written by A.B. Shawky. Starring Rady Gamal, Ahmed Abdelhafiz.