Mexico takes top prize at the Cairo International Film Festival

The top award of the Cairo International Film Festival, the Golden Pyramid, has been awarded to Mexico’s Fernando Frias de la Parra for his film I am no longer here, the story of a young man’s exile from his hometown and the music that binds him to his people.

Ulysses, a nod to the hero ofThe Odyssey and his journey back home, is the main character of de la Parra’s film.

The movie shifts between the present and the past, as we follow his journey to self-exile from Monterrey, an industrial town along the border with Texas that suffers from violence, drug cartels and unemployment.

Loyalty binds Ulysses and his friends together, along with their music – Mexican cumbia – that nourishes their soul despite the bleak circumstances.

Ulysses, who remains stone-faced most of the time, comes to life and dances when he hears his music.

“This more about the youth and lack of social upward mobility, lack of opportunities, and how that affects our youth in Latin America – particularly in Mexico,” de la Parra told RFI.

The original storyline secured best actor for Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño, who plays Ulysses, and the top prize, the Golden Pyramid, at the CIFF.

Arabic cinema

While Egypt was once considered the Hollywood of the Arabic-speaking world, other countries in the region are giving it a run for its money.

Tunisia’s A Son, a multi-production film with Tunisia, France and Lebanon directed by Medhi M. Barsaoui, won Best Arab Film, the Special Jury award and the UNFPA award.

“I swear I didn’t pay them!” joked a gob-smacked Barsoui when the jury brought him back onto the stage for the third time.

The film itself is a heavy story about the shooting of a son, which unravels a dark secret of his parents that threatens their relationship.

Lebanon’s Elie Kamal took best non-fiction award for his film Beirut Terminus. In his quest to make sense of his childhood during the civil war, he tells the story of his country’s railroad, which intersected in the capital.

Beirut was the dividing point for the rail lines when it was in operation, and also during the 15-year civil war.

The film is shot in slowed down images and heightened colour, with symbolism painted through infra-red blood-stained leaves and distorted greens of the grass.

“What was crucial to me was to be very honest," Kamal told RFI. "Maybe [this allowed] people to connect to it, because those who live in the region...and lived this turmoil...will see themselves in one way or another in my story,”

Iraq’s Haifa Street by Mohanad Hayal also won two awards in the Arab Competition. The story looks at the intersection of two lives at an inopportune moment.

Set in Baghdad in 2006, the peak of sectarian fighting after the US-led invasion, the story takes place on the main drag of violence, Haifa Street. Here we meet Ahmed who is on his way to propose to his fiancée when he has an unexpected run-in with a sniper, Salam.

The niece of famed director Youssef Chahine won the Audience award for her brutally frank and original documentary Let’s Talk.

Footage of Chahine alongside other memories of this Alexandrian family, looks at the relationship between director Marianne Khoury and her daughter and the resentment she harbours towards her mother.

Special mention

Other films in the Arab competition worth a mention are Morocco’s For the Cause, by Hassan Benjelloun, and Sudan’s Khartoum Offside, by Marwa Zein.

For the Cause had the audience in laughter as it tells the tale of a Palestinian man and French woman who are caught in no-man's land between the border of Morocco and Algeria.

It’s both a commentary on the struggle for Palestinian independence and on the legacy of Western powers in the former colonies, which surfaces in moments of identification, visas and protocol.

Benjelloun told RFI that budget constraints didn’t allow him to further develop his film, but he wanted it to be comical to get his point across on the absurdity of the current situation.

Sudan’s growing cinema wowed audiences and Zein’s documentary Khartoum Offside on the struggle of women’s professional football in Sudan was not a disappointment.

The film, shot before the revolution, follows the captain of the team and how the government continues to prevent the women from receiving proper funding from FIFA – which has already approved their national women's team.

The players are repeatedly prevented from travelling to represent Sudan in international competitions.

The question of football being morally acceptable for a woman to play is constantly prodded, as the women manage to find ways to practice under the radar, despite it being illegal.