After an eight year break acclaimed director Dawood Abdel Sayed returned with another milestone in Egyptian cinema. “Rasayel El Bahr” (“Messages from the Sea”) is his latest ode to a bygone heyday of a cosmopolitan era reminiscent in every corner of Alexandria where the plot is located. It recaptures the notion of the long gone Alexandria, the metropolis of the diverse, mother to all religions and patron of refined culture, that has painfully been disturbed by a new wave of conservatism and ignorance where malls replace historical buildings and fish are caught with dynamite.
In beautiful but melancholic frames the audience is introduced to Yehia, excellently portrayed by the young prodigy Asser Yassin, who is a non practicing doctor with a speech impediment, who returns to Alexandria after the death of his last nuclear family member.
Upon his return we are exposed bit by bit to the patterns of the past and a recollection of his past life. Imprisoned by his stuttering Yehia lives a withdrawn life hand to mouth as a fisherman and learns to appreciate the numbing effect of alcohol to soothe his pain and loosen his tongue. He befriends a nightclub bouncer, very well played by Mohamed Lotfy, who becomes one of his few confidants, who are all somewhat reflecting a marginalized minority in society.
In a failed attempt to reconnect with the past through his teenage flame Carla, the Italian girl from next door, Yehia painfully learns to let go of the past and move on. Samia Asaad played Carla in a mesmerizing performance and will surely make herself heard.
His passion for music entangles him in an unorthodox romance with Nora, a beautiful woman he meets and mistakenly takes for a prostitute. An apparent one-night stand sensitively and sincerely develops into a delicate romance and love. Nora, marvelously played by Basma, is a woman equally entrapped in an empty life and painful existence, who finds refuge in Yehia’s untouched soul and manly arms. Both protagonists marginal existence draws them together with such a magnetic force that their kiss on the stairs is one of the most authentic and beautiful love scenes in modern Egyptian cinema. He falls in love with her despite her assumed profession and is willing to defy all odds.
Nora’s self-destruction and weakness do not allow herself the right for happiness and she refuses to give up the only thing in her life she has control over which is her dominance in the relation with Yehia. Overwhelmed with the purity and passion with which Yehia manly claims his love, she finally surrenders.
It is fantastic how Dawood Abdel Sayed managed to trigger Basma to deliver her best performance to date. She embodied Nora to such an authentic extent and maneuvered the facets of her character faultlessly. Asser Yassin managed to balance his character’s impediment without sliding into cliché; being a sensual and deep man fighting his demons and maturing has never been so real and personal.
Dawood Abdel Sayed excelled in this beautiful and melancholic motion picture and created so vividly real characters with such a delicacy and sincerity that it is heartbreaking for the audience. Alexandria, with its picturesque architecture, fin du siècle buildings and its vivacious streets and markets is the scenery that embraces the plot and reveals bit by bit the negative conservative influence that the socio-political unrest of the past years has inflicted. The film closes with conservatism taking over with no empathy for this unconventional love. Nora and Yehia, seem to be kicked out of their paradise and become a drop in the sea of dead fish. The open ending and the strong symbolism used by Abdel Sayed leaves the audience with a heavy meal to digest. A definite must watch!