Fans of director Youssef Chahine will have trouble recognizing the master’s hand in “The Other,” a surprisingly standard Egyptian drama with unconvincing political overtones. Simultaneously preaching against terrorism, multinational companies and the U.S.-led New World Order, pic ends up as a toothless hodgepodge of political and social ideals. All this is pinned to a bizarre Oedipal tale involving the hero’s “American” tycoon mother, played by an utterly Egyptian star, Nabila Ebeid. Most markets penetrated by “Destiny” and other Chahine films are likely to pass on this one, though it may appeal to some Arab countries.
The courageous political metaphors that made “Destiny” Cannes’ 50th Anniversary Prize winner two years ago are here grossly tossed into a rich-boy/poor-girl love story, complete with several stop-action singing interludes.
Returning to Egypt for a visit, UCLA student Adam (Hani Salama) falls for gutsy tyro reporter Hanane (Hanane Tork), who is struggling to get an interview with a powerful businessman, Essame. He turns out to be partner and friend to Adam’s mother, Margaret, a local version of Joan Collins played by the glamorous Ebeid. When the couple elope, it sets off wellsprings of unhealthy and possibly incestuous jealousy in Mama’s heart. To get rid of her daughter-in-law/rival born on the wrong side of the pyramids, she hatches an evil deal with Hanane’s terrorist brother.
Intercut into the story are clips of warplanes and exploding missiles and news photos of Algerians gruesomely massacred by Islamic fanatics (Adam’s college friend is among them). After much talk about the perils of globalization , the film fails to document them visually, other than the fleeting image of a mammoth hotel rising out of the desert (Margaret is collecting investments to build such a pleasure palace on the Sinai peninsula).
Chahine’s sympathies for the poor and disinherited, personified in Hanane’s family and friends, contrast strongly with his disdain for the corrupt and immoral middle class — a usual motif in his work. He makes a point of showing how Hanane and her luminous mother (Lebleba) courageously and firmly cut all ties with the cutthroat brother polishing rifles in his terrorist cove.
But decrying social inequality and branding terrorists as criminals hardly are the stuff of a controversial stand in Egypt, and compared with “Destiny’s” outspoken plea for religious tolerance, here too the film seems to flow along less original lines.
Strong female characters upstage all the men, although handsome Salama, as the rich son with divided loyalties, is given plenty of screen time. Most persuasive thesp is Lebleba, who manages to place Hanane’s poor but honest home beyond stereotypes.
The U.S., presented here as guilty of gaining control of Egypt’s tourist trade, appears in a few shots of Times Square set to an affectionate Gershwin track and a sound bite at Columbia U., where Palestinian writer Edward Said makes a cameo.