×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Egypt’s Ahmad Abdalla on Empowered Female Prostitute Toutou in His ‘EXT. Night’

Versatile Egyptian auteur Ahmad Abdalla is well known on the fest circuit for “Microphone,” about Egypt’s hip-hop scene, “Rags  & Tatters,” which exposed the country’s deep post-revolution poverty, and female identity melodrama “Decor.”

In “EXT. Night,” which is his 6th feature, he returns to Egypt’s darkness with a wry comedy in which a young film director, a hooker, and a cab driver wander around Cairo’s backstreets during the course of a single night that poignantly puts on screen the city’s segregated class system and its misogyny, besides its bustling vitality. During the Cairo Film Festival where, after bowing in Toronto, the pic had its Middle East premiere, Abdalla spoke to Variety about how he built “EXT. Night” around the character of an empowered woman named Toutou who happens to be a prostitute.

If I’m not mistaken, after “Decor” you were supposed to make a Zombie comedy. Then due to budget issues you instead did “EXT. Night” which in a way marks a return to your roots, shooting on the street, like “Heliopolis” and “Microphone.”

Yes. I wanted to make “Zombie Gozombie” but due to financial difficulties I decided that while I was waiting for the the financing to come through I would embark on another project that would be more personal; that would take me out of my creative comfort zone and that I would shoot and and co-produce myself.  

In this film you pay tribute to Cairo. I think you have called it a deconstruction of Cairo. Can you elaborate on that?

Yes Cairo really is a main theme of this film. The characters all share this same city, and actually all live very close to each other. But each neighborhood is a world of its own. So it was my way to observe the extreme segregation in Cairo and how people who are living in this huge city aren’t able to communicate. This is happening in every big city [around the world] but I think it’s more obvious in Egypt, and it’s very clear that social stratification is a problem.

How did you choose Egyptian-Austrian actress Mona Hala who carries the movie?

When me and Sherif [Alfy] were working on the script we were already thinking about Mona. Many people told us she doesn’t look Egyptian, that she has European features. But I didn’t care, because she’s actually very Egyptian. The way she speaks, the way she understand the community and the old traditional dynamics between men and women in this city. She’s a very smart observer of everything happening around her regarding social differences and gender issues.

Would other Egyptian actresses have turned down the role of a prostitute?

I would assume that many would, and probably this is why I didn’t think of calling most of the obvious names on the market. I tried going to Mona Hala who isn’t as much of a familiar presence in Egyptian cinema. I knew that many of them would not like to play a prostitute, even though I don’t see Toutou as a prostitute. I see her as a struggling woman trying to find her place. I knew that many actors in Cairo who would refuse to play this part, but I also knew that Hala would read more into it than just being a prostitute.

Even though Toutou is mistreated, its clear that you are not portraying her merely as a victim. She’s headstrong and smarter than the two men she is with. In fact I think the whole film is centered around her character.

True. I wanted to use her character to delve deeper into Cairo because usually the voice of women, and especially women in her profession, is very suppressed in Egypt. It was interesting for me to work with a character that has become a stereotype in cinema and look at her from a different perspective and also a prism to view the other characters and the city.

The film talks about censorship in regards to a novel, citing a real case. Several Egyptian films, such as “The Nile Hilton Incident,” have been censored in Egypt recently. But it seems you have not had any trouble with this film even though the police are not depicted in the most favorable light.

I can’t speak for other films because I don’t know what negotiations went on with them, but I’ve been lucky enough that so far the films I’ve made have all been approved by censorship. That’s probably because my films are not very direct in the way they observe Egyptian society. “EXT. Night” was cleared to play at the Cairo festival and will also be playing in Egyptian cinemas in mid-December.

 

More Film

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Teams Talks about 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. In addition to delivering one of the definitive cinematic portrayals of Hitler, [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content