• Flash Competition


Basma Al-Sharif

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

Capital deals with the construction of new towns and the all-consuming urbanisation of Egypt, taking as its anchor point the project for a « New Administrative Capital of Egypt” project, in the context of globalised capitalism. How did this theme come about, and why did you choose a short, satirical form to talk about this complex subject?

If I could safely, publicly, reveal where the ideas or “inspiration” for this film came about, I would. Let’s just say that the film isn’t actually about Egypt. Nor any particular regime. Nor is it necessarily solely about Fascism. What fascinates me is the affect these conditions produce. 

In the early stages of coming up with the work, I was initially thinking about the genre of horror – with a totally different set of scenes. Ultimately, satire (a genre which historically has been one way to slip political critique under the radar within oppressive regimes), felt more appropriate.

You stage a female character in a studio with a bare, minimalist set, a reference to the period of the so-called “Telefoni Bianchi” films of the 1930s and 40s in Italy. What link do you draw between the context of Italian fascist propaganda, to which this particular moment in cinema refers, and the theme of urbanization in Egypt?

The answer is in the question, and in the film. What do propaganda + urban planning + fascism equal ? The disappearance of free speech ! There is a parallel being drawn between Italy and Egypt through this very niche genre of films which refers to an idealised citizen and a willful breaking of spirit. The film isn’t telling a story, or spelling out a direct critique. I guess I’ve never been interested in that much – there’s no pleasure in it and no connectivity. What does interest me is the way that moving image can produce an environment and a feeling that is projected back onto its audience. To immerse in something without quite knowing how to tie up the pieces or resolve anything. Maybe it comes from disillusionment, which, as a Palestinian, is a very familiar sentiment. 

The film explores the limits of freedom of speech through the figure of the ventriloquist, played by the Italian artist Diego Marcon (with whom you had already collaborated in Ouroboros, FIDLab 2016) accompanied by his puppet. Could you explain the choice of this figure?

I saw the entire film as a different forms of ventriloquism. Diego was the direct representation of it and it really came about by chance that I was developing the film and he mentioned to me that he was learning how to do ventriloquism. It clicked in this moment since I was already planning on transplanting the politics of the film from Cairo onto Milan. He is also a friend and I was already comfortable working with him and frankly, he is someone who I simply really enjoy spending time with. He brought great energy to the work and took seriously the satirical nature of the piece in a similar way to Ouroboros. I felt like he understood what I was after without necessarily knowing it. 

You conjure up a digital universe through advertisements for luxury residential areas that embody the capitalist dream and profusion, while applying a particular visual and sound treatment to them. Where do these images come from? Why do you employ them, and could you comment on their distortion/reinterpretation?

These are digital renderings taken from advertisements for residential and commercial compounds that are being developed as part of the new capital in Egypt. How else to represent the nauseating relationship of giving up ones principals for comfort and security? I don’t find this desire that strange or unfathomable and I aimed to reproduce the affect: the seduction of comfort with the nauseating oppressiveness of authoritarianism. 

Nino Ferrer’s song has an acid, despairing humour about a kind of powerlessness in the face of so-called progress. Could you comment on it ?

Truth be told, I was desperately trying to get the rights to Unchained Melody, but the rights holder was “not comfortable” with me using their song in this context. Apparently motor oil and computers are more suited for a song that is one of the biggest earners of royalties in the world.  Nevertheless, a Ballad seemed to me like the perfect form, a story in the form of a song, shifting the emotional register of the film into another space. Crying out, badly lip-synched, and mistranslated. Le Sud popped into my brain as the correct ambivalent stamp for the film. 

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

Egypt, Italy, Germany / 2023 / 17’

Original version: Arabic, Italian, French
Subtitles: English
Script: Basma al-Sharif, Basma al-Sharif
Photography: Simon Veroneg, Davide Artusi
Editing: Basma al-Sharif
Sound: Federico Chiari, Rabea Sliman
Cast: Francesca Tasini, Diego Marcon, Bruno Besana

Production: NA NA (The Sharjah Foundation Production Programme), NA NA (The Ruttenberg Contemporary Photography Series for the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago)
Contact: Martina Sabaddini (Imane Farès Galerie)


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We Began by Measuring Distance / 2009 / 19:00
Turkish Delight / 2010 / loop
The Story of Milk and Honey / 2011 / 09:43
Farther Than the Eye Can See / 2012 /12:56
Home Movies Gaza / 2013 / 24:08
Untitled (Lyndsay Bloom) / 2014 / loop
Deep Sleep / 2014 / 12:45
O, Persecuted / 2014 / 11:38
High Noon / 2014 / loop
A Field Guide to the Ferns / 2015 / 09:44
Renée’s Room / 2015 / 14:50
Trompe l’Oeil / 2016 / loop

Ouroboros/ 2017 / 77:00