Last night was the screening of Ahmad Abdalla’s latest film, Decor, at the Cairo International Film Festival, starring Horeya Farghaly, Khaled Abol Naga and Maged Elkedwany, and shot entirely (well, almost entirely) in black and white. We couldn’t wait to see it! As usual, Ahmad Abdalla didn’t disappoint.
From the very beginning you find yourself invested in the story. The main character, Maha – played by Horeya Farghaly – and her husband Sherif – played by Khaled Abol Naga – are both set and costume designers. They are working on a light film; the kind that usually comes out during Eid. The main actress in that film, Moushira – played by Yara Goubran – refuses to cooperate with Maha whenever she makes a wardrobe choice for her, which Maha finds very frustrating. Ten minutes into the film, Maha finds herself transported into another world. The world of the main character in the Eid film her and her husband are working on. She finds herself in Alexandria, married to Mostafa – played by Maged Elkedwani. She idly goes through this other life, waiting to snap out of it. She discovers that in this life she has a daughter, just like the character in the movie.
When she does snap out of it, she tells Sherif about it. First, they both dismiss the incident. Then, they start getting concerned as little details of her real life start bleeding into the imaginary one she keeps going back to. Finally, they go to see a psychiatrist, who suggests this all might be a means for her to escape her current life. His assumption is driven by the fact that in her imaginary world she’s living a completely different life. She’s married to a homely, ordinary man, works as a school teacher and has a child. While in her real life, she’s married to a dashing man who doesn’t believe in having children, and works in the film industry. This goes on until she, and the audience, start losing grip on reality.
Halfway through the film, Maha isn’t sure which world is real and which is imaginary. The claustrophobia and panic that ensue are extremely gripping. Maha eventually finds that she has to make a choice. She needs to choose between a world where she is married to a man she loves, but with whom she cannot have an “ordinary” life, or a man who loves her and will give her the family she wants.
The film places the audience carefully into Maha’s shoes. As she loses touch with reality, so does the audience. The scene transitions are extremely smooth and cleverly shot. One moment she’s on the movie set, then the camera pans out and she finds herself in the character’s apartment which she was just building.
Decor is a film about films. The movie experience comes first. When watching it you are placed both behind the camera and in front of the screen. And every little detail counts. From Maha’s struggles with the main actress’s wardrobe, to all the hard work done to prepare props for a scene. Abdalla makes sure the audience takes it all in. And although some may find it slow-paced, this very fact is part of Decor’s charm. Basically, it is a movie enthusiast’s favorite drug.
The cinematography and lighting are beautifully done, and are reminiscent of classic cinema. The scene transitions are some of the best we’ve seen in Egyptian cinema. They had a very similar feel to Satoshi Kon’s scene transitions in films that also explore the boundaries between imagination and reality (see: Paprika or Perfect Blue).
All the characters were relatable; the entire cast did a wonderful job. The audience can’t help but sympathize with each of the characters at one point or another. Horeya Farghaly and Khaled Abol Naga did an incredible job making us fall in love with them as their characters bickered and bantered. However, Maged Elkedwani stole the show. His character was so genuine, so effortlessly lovable, and extremely real. We were flabbergasted as we watched him deliver his lines with so much ease, yet with such strong emotion.
All in all, Decor is a film for everyone. On one hand it’s artsy, with well more than a tip of the hat at classic filmmaking and filmmakers. And on the other, it has such a compelling story and relatable characters than anyone can enjoy it. It’s obvious that this is a film that was done with not only lots of hard work, but with lots of passion.