In 2005, a newly established production arm of the 56-year-old Company Dollar Film called New Century produced its first feature film, Al-Hassa al-Sabaa (The Seventh Sense).
Now a director, actor, rapper and writer extraordinaire, then a fresh graduate from the Cinema Institute, Ahmed Mekky directed and, with Mohamed Gomaa (Real Dreams, Al-Khanka), co-wrote The Seventh Sense. An extended adaptation of a short movie Mekky made in 2003 as a college project, it saw numerous talents debut in the movie business.
Ahmed al-Fishawy plays Yehia, a young man leaving adolescent agony and welcoming a more complex adulthood while maintaining a childhood practice of kung fu. Rania al-Kordy is Mona, the accomplished and gregarious love interest. Amr al-Qady plays Aly, Yehia’s best friend, a frustrated PE teacher supporting a sick mother.
As life continuously lets Yehia down, the kung fu rookie plans suicide, but a weird coincidence crosses his path with that of a subterranean sorcerer (Ahmed Rateb). The sorcerer grants him a seventh sense, the ability to hear people’s thoughts, which he asks for because he thinks he can put it to good use when playing China’s champion, Fu-mun-shi.
The adventurous Fishawy, in his first feature film role (he’s since made hits like The Aquarium, Sons of Rizk and 678), does a brilliant Yehia. An actor untarnished by the normalcy of romcom acting was needed, and the clueless, puppy-like grimace Fishawy puts on sums up Yehia’s dilemma.
The movie is built around an overfamiliar trio: male protagonist, his girl and the wingman. The simplistic script rehashes a recurrent cinematic theme, from Niazi Mostafa’s 1944 comedy Taeyat al-Ekhfa (The Magical Hat) to Ang Lee’s Hollywood Marvel adaptation The Hulk (2003): an ordinary man acquires special powers. What’s exciting about the film, as well as its cinematic audacity, is how it strips naked Egyptian society at the beginning of the new millennium – the good, the bad and the ugly.
It simultaneously ridicules and celebrates social clichés, and it comically delves into the intricacies of a typical Egyptian middle-class family, in relationships, sports and education. No one knows that Yehia can read minds, and he has an unusually innocent demeanor, so all guards are down. He hears his parents fantasizing respectively about singers Shakira and Kazem al-Saher, hears his younger sister admiring pop star Elissa’s big breasts and discovers his older sister’s affair with their neighbor.
Everything else unites to support the movie’s social aim: cinematographer Mazen al-Motagawel quirkily catches snippets of Yehia’s life: rickety, arbitrary, bold and raw. The excess use of handheld, high-angle, tilt shots and close-ups gives the movie a comic-book feel that’s amusing and fresh. The camera, many times, is Yehia’s eye, and inside his head it creates a vast space of familiarity for audience. I like being in Yehia’s head.
The idiosyncratic editing complements the camerawork and braces the storyline: editor Amr Salah Eddin cleverly places the many stock shots that are oddly yet humorlessly added to the film. For example, when Yehia thinks of emigrating, shots of the Nile’s horizon, the Cairo Citadel and two clerics hugging are inserted in the series of Egypt-centered nostalgia shots. Salah Eddin accentuates the loveable weirdness of the movie with meticulously studied randomness.
On the music front, Shady al-Said cooked up a farcical melodic concoction that flirts in the same way with exuberant clumsiness. All these squiggly and haphazard lines meet in the hands of Mekky, who succeeds in orchestrating an eccentric cinematic fest.
In 2005, Egyptian cinema produced just over 30 films, and most were romances, romcoms, and action movies. It was a time when producers didn’t really think Egyptian audiences were into fantasy (despite earlier successes such as some early Fouad al-Mohandis films and later hit remakes of US fantasy films such as Ahmed Helmy’s Alf Mabrouk). Comedies that year revolved around a character, like Adel Emam’s in Al-Sefara fel Emara (The Embassy is in the Building), Hany Ramzy’s in Al-Sayed Aboul Arabi Wasal (Al-Sayed Aboul Arabi has Arrived) and of course Mohamed Saad’s in the rather brilliant Bouha.
The comedic element in The Seventh Sense, however, is the action not the protagonist: it’s not just about pronounced jokes but about situational and cinematic comedy – cuts, noises, unlikely directorial choices. It’s experimental on so many levels – the fact that it was Mekky’s debut as director, the casting, film nerdy language, the look of it.
The film probably partly owed its existence to the still-breaking wave of youthful cinema triggered by Said Hamed’s Saeedi fel Gamaa al-Amrikeya (An Upper Egyptian at AUC, 1998), Mohamed Amin’s Film Thakafy (Cultural Film, 2000), and Sherif Arafa’s influential comedy masterpiece Al-Nazer (The Principal, 2000).
The Seventh Sense begins and ends with a kung fu match, but between the two games Yehia has lived a life-changing journey. The finale is dull – nationalistically chauvinist, you could even say – and I believe such a movie and such a character needed an equally odd ending. But The Seventh Sense broke so many cinematic rules that I’m willing to let that one go. It is, by large, a consistent and honest movie that, while not commercially successful mostly due to a badly-managed publicity campaign, has recently come to achieve cult movie status as its humor entered the world of internet memes. Rumors about a sequel, The Eighth Sense, are now spreading around the showbiz scene.