Ever since its debut at the Cairo International Film Festival, Curfew has been receiving shining reviews. The film exposes a rollercoaster of complex emotions, which the star-studded cast manages to convey brilliantly. Moreover, it delivers a poignant message that resonates with viewers. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham got the chance to sit down with the film’s stars and director for a conversation about their own experiences in the making of the award winning film.
In director Amir Ramses’ new film, veteran Egyptian star Elham Shahin portrays a woman who has just been released from prison after completing a 20-year sentence for murdering her husband. Coincidentally, she is released on a day in 2014 when Egypt is under curfew. Amina Khalil plays the role of Shahin’s daughter who is full of resentment for her mother for having killed her father and causing her to grow up without both her parents. In the film, despite their tumultuous relationship, mother and daughter are forced to spend the whole day together, as they wait for Khalil’s husband, played by Ahmed Magdy, to come back from his hospital shift to take the mother to the bus station. In the seemingly endless hours until he arrives, we observe a series of incidents that slowly shifts the dynamic between the mother and daughter, and changes the daughter’s hitherto firmly held convictions about her mother.
The film, which won Shahin Best Actress award at the recent Cairo International Film Festival, portrays two strong, stubborn, yet scarred women. The mother is driven by the need to protect the daughter she loves, and the latter is seeking the truth but is also afraid of what she might learn. In what can only be described as one of her strongest dramatic performances to date, Shahin brilliantly portrays her multi-layered character, making you both laugh and cry, often simultaneously. The daylong interaction between the two women is absolutely gripping and fascinating.
As soon as she read the script, Elham Shahin knew that the role of Faten was unlike anything she had done before. She takes on the difficult role of this dejected woman who adamantly refuses to reveal the reason she committed her abhorrent crime. As the film progresses, we get to understand why Faten did what she did, and to appreciate the immense pain that she suffered all these years as a result of the deep resentment her daughter naturally felt towards her. She desperately wants to mend fences with her daughter, but fears it may be too late, and that her crime would define her for the rest of her life.
What attracted you most to this character?
My heart ached so much when I first read this role. It’s awful how some people suffer injustice and, as a result, their lives go to waste completely. My character, Faten, is my own age, so there really was no need to make her look much older. It’s the 20 years of depression that she went through that undoubtedly aged her. The pain and burden of injustice is what makes her ugly. She’s someone who has been in continuous psychological and physical pain for so long. That’s why we added grayish black to my hair and some wrinkles on my face, and I didn’t put any makeup on. I cried even while reading my lines during rehearsals, and the director would tell me to save my energy for the actual filming. “I’m going to cry again during the shoot anyway!” was my answer. I really got into Faten, and ached so much for her. Faten exists all around us. There are many people like her, suffering from injustice.
What would you say is the biggest similarity between you and Faten?
Stubbornness and determination are huge similarities, for sure. Faten decided to keep a secret to herself, and wouldn’t divulge it even though it cost her her freedom and her reputation. To a certain extent, her sense of sacrifice is another similarity. I would also sacrifice for my loved ones. She’s also really hasty, and I’m like that too.
What would you say is the film’s main message?
One message is that not everything in life can be said. Even though Faten was totally convinced that what she did was justified and that she was innocent, she understood that some things are better kept a secret in order not to hurt the one she loves. She leaves things unspoken, a bit out of social fear, but mostly so as not to hurt her daughter the way she herself was hurt. I personally see this as sacrifice and altruism. That’s the beauty of the character and of the story.
Living twenty years without both parents could easily break any child, but in Laila’s case, it made her tough and strong. Having grown up believing that her mother had brutally deprived her of her father and ruined her life, she was determined to be a good wife and mother and a good person overall, the opposite of what she believed her mother had been. The irony was that, while she believed the rumours that her mother had been unfaithful and heartless, the real story had been right in front of her eyes the whole time. The traumatised Laila had built a wall to protect herself from what could ultimately destroy her. Even if she would not admit it to herself, both she and her mother knew deep down that some things were better left unsaid.
How did you find acting opposite Elham Shahin?
It was an honour for me to work with such a brilliant and amazing actress. She is so professional, it’s intimidating. She has the ability to project emotions from inside her so quickly and honestly. Sometimes, we’d be shooting and the camera would be positioned on her, and I would just stand there in awe, that I would forget my lines. I was so blown away by her acting. Given that the whole movie revolves around my relationship with my mother, there had to be good chemistry between us, and I think Amir, our director, saw that. He knew that this was going to work, and I think he was right because we really enjoyed working together.
How would you relate to the role of Laila and how did you get into character?
The challenge wasn’t in playing the role of a girl that’s very far from the world I live in. The main challenge in the movie was to reach the core of her emotions and to understand and relate to what she’s like from the inside. Laila is a very real character who is living a very real life. She’s a married woman who has a daughter, and goes to work. She is trying to live a very normal life, but she’s going through a lot; she is carrying a lot inside her, and it’s very hard for anyone to live with such a burden. You never know how such things affect someone, whether it makes them angry, depressed, or both. Amir and I had to make decisions, not about the facts, but about the effects that those facts have on Laila.
Ahmed Magdy plays Hassan, the loving husband who tries to do everything in his power to bring his wife and her mother together. Strongly believing that deep down, Faten was a good person, he knows that if they got the chance to spend some time together, Laila and Faten would find that they were more alike than they thought; and that even if Laila never learns the real reason behind her mother’s crime, she would learn something much more important; the love her mother has for her.
How would you describe Hassan?
Hassan is a friendly guy. He’s simple and clear. He cares about his work, his wife and his daughter. His role in the movie basically consists of trying to solve the relationship between the mother and the daughter. In his struggle, he is wondering if there ever will be some sort of closure there or not.
What would you say is the biggest similarity and the biggest difference between you and Hassan?
The biggest similarity is that Hassan has moments when he can express himself completely and easily in a clear way. I myself have such moments sometimes, as well, when I can come up to you and tell you exactly what I’m feeling towards everyone and everything. On the other hand, we’re also total opposites. His life is almost totally divided between his home and his job, while I’m all over the place. My life is divided between my home, my work, the mountains, the beach, the movies, my guitar and my friends… really everything. So, I’m not like that at all.
How was the experience of starring opposite Amina Khalil, once again?
She’s an actress who is so great at her job, that it becomes a little bit embarrassing when you feel like you should have studied more! (laughs) When you stand in front of someone like Amina, you have to be completely focused. That really helped me. I become braver and more confident when I find myself in front of someone who is as strong as Amina. If I am acting in front of someone who is a little bit confused, that can make my job harder. It is easier and better when the person opposite you is strong and confident, and Amina is like that, of course. Elham Shahin is even more like that.
What would you say is the main takeaway from this film?
The thing I like most in the film is that it shows how to forgive and make up, and how to get past an incident with love and patience, regardless of how tough it is. Also to know that sacrifice is part of being human and it’s something very rare to find in people.
How was this experience different for you from other past projects you’ve worked on?
There is always something different, because as a person in life and while portraying a character, there are always new experiences that you go through. Moreover, it’s always amazing when you work with a new cast or crew that you get to learn something new from every day, where everyone has their own method of work and way of self expression.
Sosta, played by Ellisy, starts out as Laila’s annoying neighbour who has set up his own nightclub on the roof of their building during curfew. Gradually, he plays a key role in bringing the mother and daughter closer together, by being an unintentional conduit and a perfect buffer for some essential icebreaking. With hilarious riffs and immaculate comedic timing, Ellisy brings more than comic relief to the film. He helps set a very specific sidesplitting tone that elevates the entire direction of Curfew.
How would you describe Sosta?
He’s a tuk-tuk driver who feels suffocated during the curfew. He loves working at night, preferring night customers, who he finds are more chilled than day customers. Due to the curfew, he decides to open a nightclub on the roof of the building he lives in. The nightclub ends up being his meeting point with Faten. A fun dynamic ensues between him, Faten and Laila.
What was the biggest challenge in playing this character?
Driving the tuk-tuk was actually extremely difficult. At first glance, you assume it’s like a motorcycle and it’s easy to handle, but it really isn’t. I had to train for a whole week. Fortunately, the accidents I got into were minimal, like scratching a car etc… (laughs). By the end of the movie, I finally knew how to manage it. It was a real challenge to actually drive it with Amina and Elham in the back seat. It would have been a disaster if they had fallen out (laughs).
Known for comedies such as Wara’et Shafra (Coded Paper) and dramas like Khanet Al Yak (Checkmate), as well as for being the artistic director of El Gouna Film Festival, Amir Ramses has proven over the years that he is a jack of many traits. With Curfew, he took on what turned out to be his most critically acclaimed project to date, placing him in a new well deserved spotlight. Ramses knew from the start that this film would not be easy. Curfew ranges from hardcore drama to laugh out loud comedy, and everything in between. He did an amazing job, writing and directing the film, and tailoring its very specific tone which cannot be classified under one category.
How did this project come about?
I started writing the script in 2017. It was a question of secrets, at first. How far are you willing to go to protect the persons you love by withholding the truth from them? Then I sorted out the plot involving two people locked in one place, with someone having the answers and the other curious to know, and new conflicts arise. I started to write the script around that.
What would you say was your main inspiration?
We live in the Middle East where family relationships are so complicated, and there often are mother or father issues. Parents are super protective and are always trying to keep their youngsters in a bubble; so, this is an interesting area to explore. We live in an overprotective patriarchal society where parents always think they are responsible for their children’s well-being and they have this mindset that they always know better. They think it’s better to keep the truth from them. This was the trigger for me.
How was it, working with Elham Shahin and the rest of the cast and crew?
I enjoyed working with Elham so much. She’s very experienced and is not afraid to explore new things. The role was a real challenge and was new to her. Also, in this era of influencers and social media, many stars are very concerned about their characters’ looks, how they will appear on social media and how that media will portray them to their audience. But Elham was very courageous and she took on all the challenges, by aging herself, working with no makeup and, generally, playing a very tough character.
Kamel El Basha
What motivated you to accept the role in Curfew?
As an actor, the cast and the crew were very attractive to work with. One can see the producer’s name and his level of work; the director’s name and the last films he produced. I, then, checked the script, and I actually loved it. As for the role, although it was an easy, limited space, the role was an opportunity for me to enter the Egyptian cinematic world from a creative perspective.
How do you rate your first experience in Egyptian cinema?
It was a fun, informative and classy experience.
How was all the behind the scenes work with Elham Shahin, and how did you receive the news of her winning the best actress award?
Elham Shahin is an incredible actress and wonderful in person. She, calmly, focuses on all her characters’ details, cooperates to the utmost extent, and I felt very pleased and happy with her winning this award.
How would you describe working with the director Amir Ramses?
Amir Ramses is a distinguished director, and all his works are proof of that. He shows his respect to everyone with his confidence and his belief in what he does. He always gives a reassuring atmosphere among everyone, and his instructions are always clear and direct. However, as an actor, I try to learn from each person I work with, and I never evaluate an artist by his age or the number of his films, but with his artistic levels, after and before an award.
How do you reply to people who think that it took you so long to enter the Egyptian industry?
I don’t think it’s true. I was, and still am, so busy with my theatrical project in Palestine; however, nobody recognises me, even in my country, except for the playwrights and the theatres’ audience. The Venezia prize happened to present me to different filmmakers and drama makers in our Arab world, as well as internationally. Without the industry’s glamour and nobility, I would’ve been unrecognised among those thousands of very distinguished theatre artists. After that, I began receiving a lot of offers in a way that I got exhausted, and I only chose what could maintain or enhance the positive impression of me. I, however, love all my work, and I can’t wait to play more roles.