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“Face to Face” Review: Waleed El Halfawy’s Film is Involuntarily Funny, and There Lies Its Charm

“Face to Face” Review: Waleed El Halfawy’s Film is Involuntarily Funny, and There Lies Its Charm

Face to Face review | Wesh Fi Wesh | Egypt | AfrocritikFace to Face review | Wesh Fi Wesh | Egypt | Afrocritik

There are moments of genuine laughter layered throughout Face to Face. For one, the characters are vulgar without restraint.

By Seyi Lasisi 

It’s hard to remember the last time I saw (assuming I have seen one) an Egyptian–made or Arabic film on Netflix. Nigeria and South Africa have always been the centre of attention when it comes to Netflix Africa. To my surprise, I discovered there is a thriving space and a large number of Arabic films and TV series available on Netflix’s archive. Although Netflix’s algorithm doesn’t seem to favour their popularity. 

When a passively fierce argument ensues between a couple; Sherif (Mohamed Mamdouh) and Dalia (Amina Khalil), their family and friends decide to salvage the seemingly dimming relationship by pushing for a divorce. Written and directed by Waleed El Halfawy, Wesh Fi Wesh (translated from Arabic as Face to Face), is a one-location family comedy-drama that spans a day. And although the plot details are stacked into a day, the characters seek solutions to a decade-long but suppressed conflict. 

Without excessive background details, the film introduces Dalia’s relatives: Selim (Ahmad Khaled Saleh), her brother, Mohab (Sami Meghawri), the father, Enaam, the mother, and Salma (Donia Sami), her friend. Representing Sherif’s defence line are his friends and family members: Zeinab (Salwa Mohamed Ali), his mother,  Aziz, the father, and Wael (Mohamed Shahin) and Magby (Khaled Kamal), his childhood friends. As the characters engage in verbal warfare in a bid to secure their party’s interest, their individual traits are laid bare. Selim and Magby both have a criminal history together. Mohab is a passive and easily tameable husband, and Ennam, the wife, is quickly relapsing into a judgmental pose. We realise, too, that Salma has a stolid relationship with anti-patriarchal ideas. The confrontations and interactions — to the point of physical violence — among these relatives give the film a feel of a rabid and chaotic family dynamic.  But confined to a physical space by a mechanical fault, the couple, with their kin, has to find alternative ways to resolve their conflict. 

Based on the technicalities involved in the production, there are moments of excellence spread throughout the film. The transition of the shots, the pacing, the swift cutting of the scenes and the camera movement all aid the palpable tension in the film. Face to Face is heavily reliant on dialogue and orchestrated comical scenes. The characters’  fast-paced dialogue,  their continuous quibbles, and their easy resignation to embrace the chaos heighten the tense mood in the film. Another intriguing aspect of Face to Face is its auditory landscape. As characters’ dialogue gets stuffed with feeling and tension, the carefully curated score and soundtrack, which are mostly classical oriented, interpret for viewers the mood and tone of scenes. This additional effort to provide string-laden score filtering in the background while tension is high is a commendable effort from the filmmakers. 

Face to Face review | Wesh Fi Wesh | Egypt | Afrocritik

There are moments of genuine laughter layered throughout Face to Face. For one, the characters are vulgar without restraint. But despite its comical demeanour, the film randomly moves into political and religious terrains. Most importantly, the couple’s conflict lies in Sherif’s insecurities and his inability to understand Dalia’s complaints about their relationship. Sherif needs to massage his masculine ego and Dalia’s resolution not to compromise and concede to his demands makes for a gender-based social commentary. Also, two seemingly inconsequential characters — the driver and the maid — pass social commentary about religion and household responsibilities between the couple amidst comic scenes. Similarly, Shaimma’s criticism of the couple’s liberalism towards religion and the inherent class conflict in their conversations segue the film away from its comical disposition. The potential potency of these social commentaries flecked through the scenes lies in their ability to subtly pass the points sarcastically. And for the most part, it works. 

But the interconnection of the characters’ story and the relatives’ hasty resolution makes the couple’s conflict secondary. While it’s the couple’s disagreement that brings the relatives to their home,  unearthing decade-old issues are given earnest attention.  This ultimately makes the main crux of the plot pushed to the background, and the couple appear as outliers in their home.

Face to Face review | Wesh Fi Wesh | Egypt | AfrocritikFace to Face review | Wesh Fi Wesh | Egypt | Afrocritik

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Face to Face is also narrated back and forth in time. The pacing, though commendable in certain areas, and the constant overlapping of half-complete scenes and dialogues over each other hinder comprehension and emotional investment in the dialogue. The broken scenes aren’t strong enough to clue in on the importance of certain scenes. The different jumbled parts play out as blurry scenes with no importance. As I continued watching the film, I eventually realised how lengthy and tedious it was becoming. Yes, the jokes still elicit laughter. But, the continuous length of the film does inspire interest. At almost two hours, the film could have aimed for something slimmer and tighter. 

At the tail end of the film, the couple realises that talking, in a romantic relationship, whilst entombing individual pride and deceit, can be more effective than roping in the family. The need to lay bare their emotions and committed effort to listen to each other without judgment and reservation can save us all the associated stress in a romantic and platonic relationship.

Rating: 3/5

(Face to Face is currently streaming on Netflix).

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian creative with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how they align with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: seyi.lasisi@afrocritik.com.

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