Entertaining and accessible, “The Asphalt Kings” is an Egyptian art movie that paints Cairo street life in bright colors with memorable characters. It won the special jury prize at Locarno (since when it has shed four minutes in running time) and should find most of its audiences on the fest circuit.
Story humorously focuses on the extended family of bachelor bus driver Said (Mahmoud Hmida). His best friend, Ringo (Abdallah Mahmoud), a nice boy who indulges in violent hashish binges, is secretly engaged to Said’s sexually frustrated sister, Insherrah (Salwa Khatab.) But macho Said won’t hear of Insherrah marrying another bus driver, and, pathetically, he seeks a husband for her in a better social class.
Though debuting director Ousama Fawzi is careful to give the material a light touch, there is a lingering sense of violence, danger and death hovering just beneath the surface of his jolly characters. The contradictions of Egyptian society are well portrayed: Lusty, adulterous love affairs and drug use coexist with repressive attitudes toward women in the family. Loud, knife-wielding family feuds alternate with gaudy wedding ceremonies and belly dancers.
The cast is excellent. Particularly funny is Hassan Hosni as the local barber , who can’t resist telling his clients long-winded stories lifted from “The Arabian Nights.” Pic’s only problem for Western auds is that its story is as circular as Scheherazade’s tales, and doesn’t gather momentum or build to a climax. Instead, in a very Eastern conclusion, it simply ends by turning back on itself.