A lavishly produced biopic on Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez (1929-1977), “Halim” is the second film after the festival hit “The Yacoubian Building” to come out of the high-rolling Good News Group workshop. Featuring much more of local flavor than “Yacoubian,” here the target audience is clearly Arabic-language fans of the superstar, who will not only be moved by the teary melodrama of Halim’s rise to fame from humble origins and his untimely death from cancer, but by the knowledge that the famous star who plays him, Ahmed Zaki, met the same fate just days after shooting finished.
The familiar-looking screenplay by Mahfouz Abdel Rahman and commercial helmer Sherif Arafa runs back and forth over the life of the king of Arabic music, using as a touchstone a long radio interview in which the dying star recounts his childhood in an orphanage, his determination to break through, stardom, movies, singing nationalist songs before presidents Nasser and Sadat, a host of illnesses, a lost love, and on and on for an indulgent two and a half hours.
Ahmed Zaki’s final performance, filmed while he was in and out of hospitals, reveals both his personal suffering and the depth of his professionalism in imitating the singer’s mannerisms and getting under a character’s skin.
After playing in 58 films and interpreting both Nasser and Sadat, Zaki died on March 27 last year after a long battle with cancer and was given a state funeral attended by thousands. Film’s real discovery, however, is his son, Haitham Ahmed Zaki, who makes his acting debut playing Halim as a brash young man with almost otherworldly determination to succeed.