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In the Last Days of the City (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

In the Last Days of the City


Starring Khalid Abdalla, Maryam Saleh, Hanan Yousef, Laila Samy, Bassem Fayad, Basim Hajar, Hayder Helo, Mohamed Gaber, Islam Kamal, Aly Sobhy, Fadila Tawfik, Etimad Ali Hassan, Zeinab Mostafa, Aly Khamees, Raafat Bayoumi, Zakaria Ali Mohamed, Rola Asir, Mostafa Bayoumi, Mahdi El Jabouri, Hisham Wanas and Reham Abdelkader.

Screenplay by Tamer El Said and Rasha Salti.

Directed by Tamer El Said.

Distributed by Big World Pictures. 124 minutes. Not Rated.

A good 85% or so of the footage in the Egyptian film In the Last Days of the City shows a documentary filmmaker named Khalid (Khalid Abdalla) on camera. Pretty much the other 15% is either footage of his latest film, or a viewpoint of the things he sees walking and riding around. Yet, in a weird way, even though he is always there, he is not the most vital character in this film.

That most important character is really not a person – it is a city. Specifically, it is the city of Cairo. Filmed in 2010, right on the cusp of the Egyptian revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak, Last Days shows the city and the people as diverse, passionate and determined, at the same time that they are being battered by war and violence. It shows the devastation of the bombings and the hope of the people, the promise of a new world and lifestyle which we now see with almost a decade of hindsight has never quite arrived – at least not in the way that the people and the world had hoped.

Khalid’s profession as a documentarian is apt, because he basically is just there during this film. He is a fly on the wall; observing everything, listening to news reports and talk radio, going out amongst the people during protests, trying to figure out deep meanings, but changing almost nothing. (In at least two instances here, he sees people being beaten and Khalid films them, but does nothing to help.)

Khalid is lost in stasis. He is trying to build his masterpiece, a film which will merge the political unrest of his city with his dying mother, his girlfriend (who is considering leaving Cairo for a safer, freer home), some filmmaking friends who are also from cities rocked by revolution, and an elderly calligrapher who is one of a last of a dying breed. Even his editor lays into him, saying that his film has no point of view, it is just going in circles.

This problem extends to his personal life. He has a month to find a new place to live, and he goes out every day with a realtor, looking at flat after flat and finding something wrong with every single one of them. He seems to want to stop his lover from moving – despite the fact that she wants nothing more than the freedom to be able to kiss him on the street – but he cannot bring himself to move on to look for this same freedom. He visits his elderly dying mother, but they really don’t have much to say to each other. He has a passive-aggressive professional and personal competition going with his filmmaking buddies. He loves his city and yet much of what he sees there repels him. He feels the excitement of the revolution, but he stays on the outside of the protests looking in.

In the Last Days of the City is a smart, solemn, tragic and often dour film. And its title is not merely hyperbole, it really is a case of seeing a world that has changed fundamentally and is pretty much is not there anymore. The movie works a bit better as a historical marker than as a drama, but there is so much fascinating footage here that anyone with an interest in the ongoing crises in the Middle East will be intrigued.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: April 27, 2018.

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