By Ahmed Kafafi
Long hailed as one of Egypt’s foremost directors, Dawoud Abdel Sayed’s repertoire includes films like El Sa’aleek (The Vagabonds), El Bahth ‘An Sayed Marzouk (In Search of Sayed Marzouk), El Kit Kat (Kit Kat), Ard El Khof (The Land of Fear), and Mowaten w Mokhber w Haramy (A Citizen, A Detective and A Thief).
After its 2014 premiere at Dubai International Film Festival, Dawoud’s latest film – Qodrat Gheir ‘Adiyya (Out of the Ordinary) – screened at cinemas last month to much critical acclaim. In spite of its difficult subject matter, the film cements Dawoud Abdel Sayed’s position as master of the celluloid scene – perhaps second only to late filmmaker Yousif Shahin.
Throughout its 140 minutes, the film never ceases to give the impression that Abdel Sayed is a painter, depicting with color and brush every detail in every scene. The breathtaking scenes that portray Alexandria’s beaches and downtown area juxtaposed with the complex and philosophical storyline make the film a contemplative and visually stunning masterpiece.
Qodrat Gheir ‘Adiyya, which literally translates into unusual or extraordinary abilities, tells the story of Yehia (played by Khaled Abu El Naga), a young doctor doing his dissertation on paranormal abilities. Frustrated at his lack of results, Yehia takes a forced vacation, staying at a small hotel in a small coastal village near Alexandria. The hotel, which is owned by 35-year-old artist and divorcee Hayat (played by Naglaa Badr), is host to four other regulars: an opera singer (played by tenor Hassan Kami), an Italian filmmaker (played by Akram El Sharkawy), a painter and arts professor (played by Ahmed Kamal), and a religious chanter (played by Mahmoud El Gindy). Although it is hinted that each of the guests has unique abilities, it not until Yehia meets Hayat’s daughter Farida (played by Mariam Taher) – whose clairvoyant abilities allow her to move objects with her eyes and to foretell the future – that he realizes that he may be on to something.
As he makes this discovery, Omar – an authority figure played by Abbas Abu El Hassan whose affiliation is left vague – begins to visit the hotel, believing that he can exploit Farida’s talent to solve crime cases. And as the abilities of each boarder surfaces, Yehia begins to question whether he has imparted those abilities on them or if they are inherent.
As the movie came to an end, I was reminded of a time when a team of music experts was dispatched to the Egyptian countryside in search of a new Om Kolthoum; many years later, they returned defeated, having failed to find a new diva.
Qodrat Gheir ‘Adiyya delves into an expressionistic world, where the absence of realistic details like jobs, locations and sudden twists are left unjustified. In fact, all the tools are symbols used to express one of the most compulsive obsessions of modern man: that he is capable of extraordinary feats waiting to be discovered.
The film can be seen as the visualization of a complex concept, where all the scenes and characters are symbols rather than flesh and blood entities; in this interpretation, the incidents are propelled by human being’s obsession with extraordinary abilities.
The movie is also a commentary on the need for the unity of abilities, for each of us has the potential to demonstrate extraordinary abilities; in the film, this is embodied by characters like the circus clowns, the vocalists, the simple fisherman and the artist. But unless those abilities are transformed into a single, unified force, they will remain useless.
Above all, it demonstrates how the search for the extraordinary must begin with oneself.
Perhaps this is why the search for a new diva is doomed to fail, for searching for the extraordinary in a materialistic world where people with modest abilities that mask as unique vie for distinction, will never produce genius.