The Aquarium (Genenet al asmak) (2008)
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Critic Reviews for The Aquarium (Genenet al asmak)
Audience Reviews for The Aquarium (Genenet al asmak)
Unevolving characters doom Egyptian societal critique *** This review may contain spoilers *** I saw this at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. For those who are unfamiliar with the Egyptian cinema (and I'm included in that category), it is refreshing to get a glimpse of modern middle-class life in Egypt from the point of view of the director, who is pro-Democracy and critical of the repressive nature of the government. The Aquarium gives us a feel for what's going on in Egypt today from the anti-Corruption movement to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. The cinematography is excellent and some of the images very aesthetically pleasing. That said, 'The Aquarium' falls down in the area of plot and character development. The film basically follows the lives of two characters: Youssef, an anesthesiologist who works at two jobs (including an illegal abortion clinic in the evening) and Laila, a radio talk show host who is an Egyptian "Dr. Laura", dispensing advice to the lovelorn over the airwaves. Both characters are supposed to represent a certain malaise or feeling of alienation amongst middle-class Egyptians today. The problem with Youssef's character arc is that it never evolves--he remains repressed and unhappy throughout the film and he misses an opportunity to bond with his father who is dying of cancer. Laila also feels emotionally disconnected and protects herself through vicarious bondings with her talk show listeners. She too changes little, although a bit more than Youssef, as she is 'considering' moving out of her mother's apartment at the end of the film. Youssef first 'meets' Laila when he calls into her talk show. In the film's denouement, chance brings the two together but their relationship is never explored as Laila runs away from Youssef who she perceives as some sort of control freak. The secondary characters in the film often step out of their character roles and address the audience directly. This technique has mixed results: on one hand, the actors provide needed exposition which makes the overall atmosphere more realistic but on the other, it undercuts the dramatic interplay. The Aquarium reminds me of Antonioni's 'Blowup'. The characters are not meant to be fleshed out people but rather 'types' that represent society's shortcomings. Had the writers made their protagonist a little more likable and interesting (balancing out the bad foibles with the good), created a central antagonist and defined a central crisis point, then this film would have ended up more compelling than it turned out to be.
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