If ever there were doubts about the brutality of the Mubarak regime and why it had to go, they are completely dispelled by Ibrahim El-Batout’s latest masterpiece Winter of Discontent.
The movie outlines with dedicated care the utter brutality and impunity with which the State Security apparatus operated. The utter helplessness of its victims and their families who had no one to turn to when they disappeared is suffocating to watch. The torture scenes reflected extreme ruthlessness without exaggeration.
The movie centres around the life of an activist, Amr (Amr Waked), in January 2009 and 2011, and focuses on the characters of Farah (Farah Youssef), a TV presenter and Adel (Salah ElHanafy) a high ranking state security officer. The movie does more than tell the story of Egypt’s uprising. It tells a story of Egypt’s past, present and possibly future.
It is difficult write an impassive review of a movie so close to the events of the 2011 uprising. In a way watching the movie is not about the characters in the film, but stories we experienced or heard about. As the movie premiered, a host of recognized revolutionary figures present could be heard whispering as they related their own stories or those of people they knew.
Waked’s performance holds everything together. We see how he breaks and rises. We see what makes him heal. It is a fairy tale of sorts, but one that has happened over and over again on account of the events of January 2011. Farah Youssef is a TV presenter who also finds redemption, at times her return is over the top. Perhaps surprising was the part played by new comer ElHanafy as the state security officer which was both written and executed with refined subtlety. The depiction is unorthodox yet entirely convincing. A wide spectrum of emotions palpable in the details and the performance, yet expressed so reservedly.
El-Batout’s imagery is mesmerizing, his camera never in a rush to catch up with what is happening but rather moving slowly as if reflecting on what it captures. The film set meticulously chosen, whether it is the run down quarters of state security, or the refined, lavish home of the state security officer. The scenes are dark yet painting like, with copious shades of black and blue filling the screen as if they were the film’s posters - memorable cinematography from Victor Credi the director of photography. Ahmed Mostafa Saleh’s music in the background is mostly subtle and minimalist complementing the picture beautifully.
A movie that recounts the details of the 18 day uprising in 2011 was long awaited and with regards to accuracy and authenticity, Winter of Discontent does not disappoint. There is no climax, just a slow transition that the revolution did to a great number of people. It does not tackle what people did in Tahrir, but rather what Tahrir did to other places.
Whatever it may be as a movie is overshadowed by sincerity in telling the tale. The attention to detail, whether in conversation, mood or sound, is transporting to the 18 days. One such example is chants heard in the background of ‘Bread, freedom’ followed by the long forgotten ‘human dignity’, now replaced by ‘social justice’. Such were the chants that shook Cairo. ‘Do you think they’ll be able to do anything?’ asked Amr’s neighbor in one of the scenes as the protests marched by. A simple statement that reflects the hope people in their homes had for any sort of change that would better their lives.
For many who have witnessed some of these events, it is an incredibly moving picture that captures the spirit of the events; a whirlwind of emotions about fear, hope and defiance. To hope again when hope was lost is not easy to do, even when everything around you asks you to.
The story is about a nation who sought justice but found it absolutely nowhere but themselves having searched so hard. In a way it tells the story of a continuing revolution, from reasons it had started to reasons it cannot but continue. It tells the story of hopes and dreams and the ability to rise from beneath the dirt. Yet with all that it holds, it is a deeply saddening tale, because it is a story of an on-going discontentment, a continuing struggle, one that has not yet been resolved, one that has not yet been won.