Sexy fare boosts limp B.O.

'Lembi 2,' 'Sleepness Nights' score with Egyptian auds

CAIRO — English-language pics are returning to Egyptian screens after a summer dominated by Arabic fare. Europe’s box office malaise and economic downturn rubbed off on Egypt, which recorded a 30% B.O. drop for the season.

A few titles managed to break out of the doldrums due to provocative subject matter or comic appeal. Sexually forthright “Sleepness Nights” scored about $800,000 in its first three weeks, initially outpacing comedy blockbuster sequel “Lembi 2” and “Call Mama,” both at an estimated $650,000 for the same period. “Lembi 2” was the summer’s top title with $2.8 million.

“Sleepness Nights,” directed by first-timer Hani Khalifa, has been lauded as the best film to come out of Egypt in recent years for its searing portraits of Egyptian marriages, and is tipped as the country’s choice for the Oscars.

“No one likes to produce movies like ‘Sleepness Nights’ because it deals with the problems in marriage — and we don’t like to openly discuss our problems,” says Khalifa. “Married men and women who cheat, people who are in committed sexual relationships but not married are all taboo subjects.”

The mix of stars and unknown talent scored with auds despite an “Adults Only” rating, showing that comedies aren’t the only genre that works in the region. Of course, the time-honored combo of sex and comedy also works well: “The Denmark Experience,” a comedy about a Danish sex therapist coming to Egypt, which marked the return of comic star Adel Imam, scored a sexy $500,000 in its first two weeks.