Fans of helmer Yousry Nasrallah’s first feature, “Vols d’Ete,” will be disappointed by his change of gear in “Mercedes.” This wise, would-be political, off-the-wall soap opera has an outrageous fascination of its own, but outside Egypt the pic’s appeal looks limited to select fest auds.
Pic opens splendidly (in black-and-white) at a high-society party in Cairo some 20-30 years ago. A beautiful woman (Yousra), sitting properly beside her mother and the aged man she’s pledged to marry, informs her mother she’s pregnant.
Mama hastily marries her off and the woman gives birth to a son, Noubi. In the space of a single sequence, her husband dies, she secretly gets pregnant by his brother and abandons the baby, Gamal.
Now a man, Noubi (stiffly acted by an overage Zaki Abdel Wahab) is both a Marxist and extremely rich. In one of its sporadic moments of wit, pic explains he has been living in a mental hospital because he tried to give his fortune to the Communist Party.
Noubi sets off in search of Gamal, whom he thinks is his cousin, hoping to give him some money. He glimpses him in a flea-bitten cinema frequented by gays, but Gamal and his boyfriend, Achraf, elude him. Instead he falls for a virgin belly dancer from the slums (also played by the lively Yousra) who looks like his mother. As a background to all this nonsense, Nasrallah stirs in the World Soccer Games, the Gulf crisis, the birth of a violent fundamentalist movement and the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe. It’s a heady cocktail which, kept under control, could have ended with a bang instead of bewilderment.