The personal toll in body and spirit of the 2011 Egyptian revolution is the theme of Ibrahim El Batout’s fourth and smoothest feature, “Winter of Discontent.” Shuttling back and forth between an activist’s torture in 2009 and his revolutionary activities two years later, the pic is an ultra-clean, stately lensed look at the chaotic events, oddly airless at times yet with moments of power. Originally titled “R for Revolution” and in gestation for about a year, “Winter” unfortunately already feels old, given recent events that suggest a more appropriate title chronicling the current political scene might be “S for Stalled.”
As a Johnny-come-lately to the increasing number of pics dealing with the Arab Spring, and with little acknowledgement of the delusion currently plaguing many Egyptian activists, there’s a chance El Batout’s film will have difficulty gaining traction at fests already on to the next best thing. Those willing to program the pic, however, are likely to be thanked by a receptive public; no Egyptian distrib deal is in place yet, making ancillary a likely local home, though lead/producer Amr Waked’s name is a definite draw.
Amr (the intensely browed Waked) is first seen on the eve of the January Revolution uploading videos onto YouTube that detail torture by state security forces. Via frequent flashbacks, auds learn that Amr himself was a victim of prolonged detention and torture (though it’s never clear exactly what led to his arrest).
Adel (Salah Al Hanafy), the secret police chief overseeing Amr’s brutal incarceration in 2009, is deeply involved in official attempts to smash the Revolution in 2011. Woven into their stories is a further strand about newscaster Farah (Farah Youssef), apparently an old flame of Amr’s who ankles the regime-supporting talkshow she co-hosts after developing a backbone. More of this story, and the connection between Farah and Amr, would increase the pic’s emotional weight.
A brief scene at the end suggests that Adel and family will do just fine in post-Revolutionary Egypt despite his repressive activities, but curiously it’s the only one conceding that the uprising has been hijacked by forces affiliated with, or just as tainted as, the Mubarak regime. Without more of this acknowledgment, the pic feels behind the times, ending on a more or less celebratory note (tinged with mourning for those who died or were maimed during the struggle) that doesn’t sit well with the current political situation.
Dates appearing across the screen ensure that auds aren’t confused by time shifts, with each strand moving along chronologically. Though scenes of regime thugs and wounded activists are scattered throughout, “Winter” largely misses out on the gritty disorder during those fateful days in late January 2011. The decision is deliberate, since El Batout’s previous films (most recently, “Hawi”) reveled in their rough edges.
None of the graininess of those earlier pics is felt here, exchanged for a more mature style that speaks of an overarching seriousness. Shots are meticulously composed with darkly rich saturations, and Victor Credi’s smooth camera slowly glides within the hermetic shots.