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Seventh Heaven

An upscale reformed prostitute finds love in the arms of a whirling dervish in the deeply misogynistic "Seventh Heaven," by helmer Saad Hendawy ("State of Love").

With:
With: Laila Eloui, Farouk al-Fishawi, Sherif Ramzy, Sawsan Badr.

An upscale reformed prostitute finds love in the arms of a whirling dervish in the deeply misogynistic “Seventh Heaven,” by helmer Saad Hendawy (“State of Love”). Nice use of Cairo locales can’t disguise the superficial handling of the dervish lifestyle, while the pic’s treatment of female sexuality as a voracious, castrating force will sit poorly with sophisticated viewers throughout the Middle East. Awarded a special mention by the Arab competition jury at the Cairo fest, pic should see modest local biz thanks to the popularity of star Laila Eloui. Crossover potential is zilch.

Bromo-Seltzer alone can’t relieve the spiritual emptiness deep inside Hanan (Eloui), a former call girl hoping to change her life by emigrating. Shaken out of her torpor by the performance of whirling dervish Bakr (Farouk al-Fishawi), she inadvertently catches the eyes of both the dancer and his twentysomething son, Saad (Sherif Ramzy).

Bakr, too, is a lonely soul, divorced from Tawhida (Sawsan Badr) because of his uncontrollable, unfounded jealousy. Saad emulates his dad in all things, but Bakr is reluctant to have him literally follow in his footsteps. Noticing the unspoken chemistry between Hanan and his father, Saad plays go-between, and soon, romance blooms. But Hanan doesn’t know if Bakr will accept her past.

Subplot involves Saad’s conflicted relationship with his mother, whose breezy flirtations infuriate him. Feeling betrayed on all sides when he catches his g.f. hot and heavy with another guy, Saad finds comfort solely in his wish to become a whirling dervish, just like dad.

Despite frequent shots of the twirling mystic (marred by ham-fisted editing), nothing is made of the spiritual basis for dervish performances. Viewers unfamiliar with Sufi’ism and the religious trances that form part of the culture could be forgiven for thinking the dervishes are just a bunch of dancing men in flaring skirts.

However, pic’s most contentious element is its treatment of women, who are all whores, whether penitent or otherwise. There’s not just Hanan, who regrets her career, and Tawhida, whose harmless playfulness is demonized by her son. Bakr turns out to have been a gigolo of sorts, lured to the homes of wealthy women whose emasculating sexuality made him feel used and dirty. Script — actually by a female writer, Zainab Aziz — unambiguously places the onus on the female sex, whose unhealthy desires obviously require controlling.

Hard-working character actress Badr comes off best as the mother, her bewildered inability to meet her son’s expectations providing pic’s only emotionally resonant element.

On the plus side, the streets of Islamic Cairo are handsomely shot. Music goes overboard with ominous strains, and color is occasionally poor.

Seventh Heaven

Egypt

Production: An Al Nasr Films release of a Cultural & Media Arab Prod. production. Producer, Walid al-Naggar. Directed by Saad Hendawy. Screenplay, Zainab Aziz.

Crew: Camera (color), Ramses Marzouk; editor, Rabab Abdel Latif; music, Tamer Karawan; production designer, Salah Marei; costume designer, Laila Soliman; sound (Dolby SR), Ahmed Gaber. Reviewed at Cairo Film Festival (Arab Competition), Dec. 5, 2007. (Also in Dubai Film Festival.) Running time: 99 MIN.

With: With: Laila Eloui, Farouk al-Fishawi, Sherif Ramzy, Sawsan Badr.

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