Thanks to the ICA’s Arabic Film Season, Safar, which ran throughout September, I got to spend a Wednesday evening watching an Egyptian comedy about terrorism and kebabs. No joke! Widely considered one of the greatest Egyptian films, this is a pretty absurd film and definitely tongue in cheek, mixing a little Monty Python and Carry On, but also holding a strong socio political message.
From celebrated Egyptian director Sherif Arafa, Terrorism and the Kebab (1992), stars Adel Imam, as a very funny and incredibly charismatic protagonist called Ahmed. Ahmed visits El Mogamma, the largest government building in Cairo, to try to arrange for his children to switch to a closer school. In a building crowded and slow/barely functioning, on his second visit Ahmed eventually loses his rag with a lazy government worker. The situation spirals into a scuffle and results in him accidentally taking the whole building under siege with hostages et al. As you do.
Ahmed is joined by sympathisers in the form of a guy who was just trying to jump off the roof to escape his nagging wife, a guy who’s facing a death sentence as a result of an injustice and a prostitute who’s in custody. Unsurprisingly the representations of the female characters in this film are slutty night worker, nagging wife or hopeless spinster who needs taking care of. However, this doesn’t ruin the film if taken into context and the overall high quality of the writing and general tone of comedy is pretty ground-breaking in Arabic Cinema.
Writer Wahid Hamed has used comedy to offer a political message, highlighting the absurd levels of bureaucracy in Egypt and a sense of oppression that has left people unable to recognise what they want – symbolised by the hostages when asked by the government what they want. The film ends with the hostages showing solidarity to their captor, Ahmed, who is, after all essentially in the same position as them, walking out and past the dumbfounded guards and governors with Ahmed, amongst the crowd.
Terrorism and the Kebab is a pretty funny ground-breaking film that offers an insight into Egyptian cinema and culture whilst at the same time making you think, laugh and maybe even leave the cinema a little peckish.