Jill sold this week’s pick to me like this:
“There’s an Egyptian movie called Excuse My French that might be good? It’s about a boy moving to a new school in Egypt and being the only Christian there.
Don’t worry, it’s a comedy.”
Well, first of all, girl knows me so well, she’s already anticipating me turning my nose up at a seemingly ‘boring’ movie prospect (Jill’s choices are always way more socially conscious than mine. I like dance offs, alright?).
Secondly, she added that it might be nice to show some solidarity to the Muslims (Fuck Trump). And while I’m sure it takes more to be a useful ally than just watching a comedy from a couple of years ago, understanding has to start somewhere, in whatever format it takes to get through I suppose. And given the current climate, I think it’s important to step outside our comfort zones to experience different ways of life.
Excuse My French (2014)
Hany (Dash) is twelve and lives a happy life with his parents. Dad is a banker, while his mother works at the opera house. There’s money from dad’s career and little from mum’s but it works just fine. Hany is a bright student, popular at school with a solid crew behind him and he loves his church.
One day, I’m sorry to say, Hany’s dad drops dead at the dinner table and Hany’s life is changed irrevocably. While Mum is devastated, Hany finds it difficult to show emotion, even when questioned about it by the object of his affection, Sarah. She tells him not to worry about not crying now, it will come.
Meanwhile, Hany and his mother must get on with their lives. The issue of money raises it’s ugly head and Hany understands that they can no longer afford the expensive private school he’s been attending so far. He asks everyone he knows about their educations, including his only friend outside school, in an attempt to gauge how bad state school is likely to be. (You’re going to have to forgive me here for the appalling lack of character/actor names as IMDB has kept it minimal)
Soon Hany finds out for himself how ‘bad’ things can be. He’s not welcomed with open arms (as you’d expect, kids are mean) and it quickly becomes obvious who ‘the ones to avoid’ are. However, there’s some saving grace at the start, when everybody assumes he is Muslim. Now, this doesn’t exactly sit comfortably with Hany but he works out quickly that the few Christians that do attend the school are kept away in the dark, like mushrooms and that is not how he wishes to roll.
There’s a lot of bullying going on which has nothing to do with religion, lead by head bully, Aly (I think that’s his name). He’s a shit to be sure but doesn’t seem to discriminate when it comes to his victims. Hany’s a swot though to be fair and gets nominated Class President which causes some ructions and singles him out.
He finds some respite when a nice teacher called Miss Nelly comes to the school and shows him some kindness. She has a Christian name so Hany assumes she’s like him (this is later disproved). Miss Nelly encourages Hany’s scientific side and he wins a prize but something nasty happens to her and she leaves.
There’s a segment that causes me some confusion here. To explain, Miss Nelly is attacked by some older students. Hany overhears their plan to grab and ‘grope her’, and tells her to dress in more demure clothing but he doesn’t exactly warn her. With no context for his slut shaming comments, she tells him off for being rude.
Later the older boys are punished for what they’ve done to Miss Nelly. Then one of their big brothers, a gangster, comes to the school to seek revenge on the teacher that punished them. It’s very odd and uncomfortable – and nobody bats an eyelid. A way to illustrate just how things worked round these parts at this time?
Hany’s mother btw has forbidden Hany to, a) make friends and b) discuss religion with anybody. He does break the first rule when he makes a friend but when Hany gets beaten up by Aly and his mum comes storming into the school to confront the head teacher, he is outed as Christian. Oopsy.
This does not make things better for Hany but he’s made of stern stuff. There are some other developments including an attempt by Hany’s mother to emigrate them to Canada but in the end, they stay to face the music. Question is, will Hany ever truly fit in or will he become a second class citizen like the minority Christians at school?
Well, that’s for you find out, innit?
This was an okay way to spend a Sunday afternoon in bed (it was a long weekend of travelling for us, okay?). It was darker than I originally expected and that’s okay, I mean school is tough enough, without the topic of religion being thrown in the mix. It won’t hurt anybody to look at these issues in simplistic terms through the eyes of a kid.
The film might not change lives and is a bit of a mess but it’s presented in such a way that you can’t help feeling something. This time it’s the Christians that are treated as sub-standard, a change from the ‘western way’ in which Muslims are painted as the problem with all things, ever. Interesting to get this perspective.
That’s as political as I’m going, don’t worry. My copy of the film was terrible and the subtitles ran way too fast so I found it challenging to keep up but apart from that, it was amusing and touching in places.
The lead (Dash) was delightful and defiant as Hany, his mother (Allouch) has shades of Monica Belluci about her (a good thing) and I loved the bully, Aly more than I should have. He reminded me of Chris Lilley’s Jonah.
All in all, it took the serious topic of religion and still managed to be fun and warm. In fact, I don’t even feel like religion is the main subject matter in this, it’s more a study in bullying and facing up to that. Bullies are fucking dicks but the psychology of why they do the things they do is fascinating (though not really explored much here).
My Rating: 3/5. Okay. Thinking back on it for this post, it’s not as powerful or topical as it could have been but maybe you’ll enjoy it anyway.