Tyro helmer Hany Fawzy’s “Family Secrets” is billed as the first Egyptian movie whose central theme is homosexuality. While that’s true, the flip side is that the pic, execrable mise-en-scene aside, is actually a pro-“gay conversion therapy” tale in which the poor chump is told his “disorder” can be cured. Love the sinner, hate the sin is but one of many offensive statements coming out of this ham-fisted meller, apparently “based on a true story.” It could be worse — at least the protag is meant to be sympathetic. These “Secrets” will generate far more press than sales.
Controversy is swirling at home, where official censors are demanding cuts to scenes that would barely have discomfited Will Hays. If the film does get released in Egypt, media debate will at least bring the subject out into the open, though as propaganda for conversion, the results are likely to do more harm than good. Away from home, the only prospects this “Family” has are with ultra-conservatives looking for something to screen at anti-gay retreats.
Fawzy’s previous career as scripter (“I Love Cinema”) neither helped behind the camera nor honed his ability to judge plausible dialogue and construction, the latter muddled by poorly handled flashbacks (the pic does a very bad job of signaling the passage of time). Characterizations are lifted from that most tired of canards, the one about the overbearing mother (Salwa Mohamed Ali) and the absent father (Tarek Soliman). As a teen, Marwan (Mohamed Mahran) confesses to older sis Omnia (Passant Shawki) that he’s attracted to men; she spills the beans to Mom, who tells him he’s delusional.
Mom takes him to a series of shrinks: One berates him to butch it up, another puts him on anti-depressants and pills to decrease his sex drive. Fed up with feeling drowsy, he chucks the meds once in college and acts on his urges, going online and arranging a first date. The sleazy Neanderthal he gets would turn most gay men straight, and he runs away. Marwan’s next shrink, Dr. Nabil Barakat (Ahmed El Rafie), is at least superficially more supportive, telling him he can change if he wants to, but if he doesn’t, emigration is an option.
After a series of dates with nice English prof Mazen, Marwan finally loses his virginity, leading to a shot of him in a pink shirt staring traumatized in the mirror as music that makes the Warsaw Concerto seem anemic blares on the soundtrack. TV psychiatrist Amgad Wahbi (Emad El Raheb) is consulted and a path to heterosexuality is laid out, one that addresses his so-called retarded psychological development without stigmatizing the “disorder.” Find the real Marwan, Wahbi tells him, and the homosexual will disappear.
Not to be overlooked is the presence of Marwan’s older brother, Sameh (Ahmed Abdel Wahab), a homophobic pig who gets a co-worker knocked up, forcing Omnia to pay for the illegal abortion and reparative hymen surgery. Presumably this is scripter Qader’s way of pointing out the pervasiveness of hypocrisy, though it plays like just another meller scandal. More troubling is the revelation that Sameh raped Marwan as a boy, making it inevitable he’d be gay, right? After all, he’s working against a triple whammy: termagant mom, absent dad and sexual abuse as a child. But since Sameh himself was raped by the family driver, wouldn’t that mean that he’d have to be gay, too? This is self-loathing, dangerous nonsense, pure and simple.
Unknown actor Mahran was brave to take the role, though his effeminate gestures and facial expressions are downright embarrassing. Thesping in general is subpar, and the one marginally effective scene, in which Marwan confronts his father, is neutered by the odious message of conversion. Inept scenes and bright TV lighting suggest a third-rate Turkish sudser, and Rageh Daoud’s score induces severe dyspepsia.