What’s the connection between what’s known as the Italian “white telephone” films of the late 1930s and the construction of new towns in Egypt? To answer this, Basma al-Sharif composes a satirical movie that combines the grotesque with a formal sophistication, building bridges between various geographies and political histories. The director boldly plays around with these films, which were characterised by frivolous sentimentality and whose light-hearted plots revolved around the telephone, a symbol of the bourgeoisie at the time. She retains nothing but the essential elements, ironically subverting them: a listless actress slumped in front of a television set – a concession to modern life – and a white telephone. No melodrama here, but behind the screen and on the other end of the phone, an interview with a cynical Egyptian presidential candidate and the (exhilarating) proposals of a property developer. Set against this voice of authority, the censured words of a ventriloquist, played by filmmaker Diego Marcon, challenge the limitations of this speech. Basma al-Sharif combines cinematic minimalism with the artificiality of digital possibilities, using commercials for luxury residential complexes, a consumerist dream denounced by their hallucinatory distortion. Although the Capital that gives the film its title refers to the colossal project of a “new Egyptian capital” planned since the 1970s near Cairo, it also, of course, refers to the global capitalism involved here, the capitalism that’s invading the South, the legacy of colonialism, from which the director herself originates. The same South for which Nino Ferrer nostalgically foresaw a tragic destiny, and which the Palestinian artist now depicts with acerbic and despairing humour.
Louise Martin Papasian