Yomeddine movie cast: Rady Gamal, Ahmed Abdelhafiz
Yomeddine movie director: Abu Bakr Shawky
Yomeddine movie rating: Three stars
This is a road trip with a real difference. A disfigured man and a bright-eyed boy set out from a leper’s colony on a journey. Both want to know more about themselves: who were they before they came to be here, abandoned and alone? Do they even have a past, or have they been erased from memory?
The 93-minute `Yomeddine’ (‘Judgement Day’) was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, and Egypt’s entry to the Oscars 2019. And you can see why the film became such a favourite. The middle-aged Beshay is played by Gamal, a man who lives in a leper’s colony because he used to be one, and right there you see the power of authenticity: Gamal doesn’t have to scrunch his eyes, they are practically hidden under layers of scarred tissue. He doesn’t have to turn his fingers inward; his hands are stumps. He is free of the disease, but the ravages are imprinted on his face, and his body.
But, the real strength of this film is, you never see Beshay feeling sorry for himself. You go along with him, glad that he has a smart young companion (who goes by the name of Obama, ‘like that guy on TV), who will save him from the many disasters that duly follow: he is robbed, his donkey dies, he is bunged in prison. But never at any point does he look like giving up.
A few things do stick out awkwardly. Some lines seem crafted too carefully, and they become dialogue. Suddenly, a natural, free-flowing moment appears rehearsed. But these moments are few and far between. Most of this picaresque journey, which thankfully stops just short of being picturesque, is treated with a light touch. At one point the travellers are passing by a grand looking structure, and one of them asks is that a pyramid? It is, but they pass it by without fuss, just another thing on the road, and no one stops to take pictures: when your meager belongings fit into a cart, and your wad of money is so slim as to invisible, that’s what you do.
There’s pleasing camaraderie between man and boy, but it is not cloying. And their encounter with a one-legged man and his variously challenged companions, all of whom exist on the periphery of town, raises discomfiting questions about people who are forced out on the fringes. Why does ‘normal’ society create so little space for those with differences or difficulties?
A climactic speech throws out a heavier curve: Beshay was left in the leper’s colony, he is told, for his own good. It leaves you thinking: what, after all, is good for someone who is too young and too disadvantaged to make their own choices? Do we have the right to decide for someone else? And can we ever go home again?
Do we want to see the downbeat Don Quixote-Sancho Panza pair who have stuck together through all their travails, go out on an upbeat note? Oh, absolutely. Strangers can often be closer than family.