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East of Noon – Quinzaine Des Cinéastes 2024 (Film Review)

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Quinzaine Des Cinéastes

Blurring the lines of reality, revolution, and the power of storytelling into a singular genre-bending piece, the latest feature from Egyptian multi-disciplinary artist ventures into neo-fable territory with an idiosyncratic portrait of youth in revolt. Within the film's age-old tale of autocratic resistance, Elkoussy builds the foundation of her world within an economy based on storytelling. Stories permeate the decaying industrialised buildings — weaponised for political advantage and other propaganda methods. Juxtaposed with the literality of the shooting space, Elkoussy ingeniously took over an abandoned wood factory in Helwan for the film's stark exteriors. The buildings featured in East of Noon were once prosperous in their heyday; as the abandoned status of the shooting space remains emblematic of the film's tale of commonwealth defiance. Set in a world where a fascistic showman reigns supreme with a daunting militaristic edge, the sensationalist state of the suppressed township seeks solace within the orality of others. Endless spoken-word prose about the sea supports the populace's dreams & desires for liberation. 

Mainly preoccupied by the actions & subsequent consequences of the film's protagonist Abdo, East of Noon zones into the young musician's plights for resistance. Music is integral in Elkoussy's universe — an act of defiance which symbolises a different form of storytelling. For the film's avant-garde soundscape, composer Ahmad Elsawy implemented found-objects as musical instruments. Marking his debut performance as the film's baby-faced hero, Omar Rozeik live-performed a few of the film's compositions for his multi-faceted role. Rozeik's charm and kindness radiates throughout the entirety of the languid narrative. His cinematic suaveness confidently gifts a unique mouthpiece towards Elkoussy's thematic notations. 

Still Courtesy –

Elkoussy takes advantage of her unique shooting module by utilising analogue film in the rendering of her unique dystopia. Historically speaking, East of Noon marks the first Egyptian feature in over a decade to be shot with glorious celluloid. By alternating between the clarity of 35mm color-negative stock, Elkoussy's form provides blunt juxtaposition and introspection within her character's headspace. The soft grain of the 16mm gauge symbolises a restless visual metaphor; a world with a literal absence of colour. The pastiche works miraculously in high-contrast sequences, evoking expressionistic shadows within the darkness of the vast night sky. These moments are unfortunately sparse; where the celluloid-form of the monochromatic sequences is underutilised. More variation in contrasts and textures would have brought the spectator closer to the intricacies of the fictionalised world. 

On a technical front, Elkoussy maximises the scope and grandeur of her universe with delightful results. However, her storytelling lacks urgency. The laborious opening act sets the characters, motives, and logistics of the social-political climate with arduous dialogue. There is little momentum in the narrative rhythm. The lengthy oners merely prolong scenes for the sanctity of grandiosity. As a bi-product, the lackadaisical shooting method underwhelms the tantalising thematic underbelly. More or less, the issues at hand are attributed to the film's safe treatment of the revolutionist chronology. Elkoussy's structure consistently retreats back to a traditional three-act wavelength; where her narrative would have benefited from a more radical storytelling approach.

In tranquil day-dreams, Elkoussy gently dips into the poetics of her cinematic landscape, briefly embodying the role of a talented semiotician. The unabashed emotions excavated from these fleeting scenes demonstrate a commendable artistic voice behind the camera. East of Noon is an underwhelming sophomore slump; a film that admirably persists and advocates for the preservation of peace amidst the messy storytelling. There is heart and wit at the crux of the production — even if the film loses its rambunctious melodramatic edge for a more conventional unraveling.

Still Courtesy – Quinzaine Des Cinéastes
East of Noon premiered at this year's  Film Festival, as part of the Director's Fortnight sidebar.