Meeting 'Sins of the Flesh' director Khaled el-Hagar

Meeting 'Sins of the Flesh' director Khaled el-Hagar
Q&A: On the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Hadani Ditmars discusses freedom of expression before and after Mubarak's fall with filmmaker Khaled el-Hagar.
4 min read
25 January, 2017
Khaled el-Hagar frequently courts controversy [Archive photo: Getty]
Khaled el-Hagar's career has often inspired controversy in his native Egypt - from his 1995 student film A Gulf Between Us, a love story between an Egyptian boy and a Jewish girl that had him accused of fostering "normalisation" with Israel, through to the racy 120 Kisses and Shooq - or Lust - a tale of frustration and poverty in Alexandria's mean streets that premiered a few weeks before the 2011 revolution and was Egypt's official Oscar entry.

His latest film,
Sins of the Flesh, is part thriller/part morality play set against the backdrop of the revolution. A forbidden love affair between a married Fatma (played by Nahed El Sebai) and her former lover, is pitted against the machinations of an oppressive land owner. Blackmail, murder and simmering frustrations play out as revolution looms, and the film questions the merits of Egypt's very own "spring".

Hadani Ditmars: How was Egypt's film scene affected by the revolution?

Khaled el-Hagar: In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, cinema production slowed down considerably. People were afraid to go out at night - but television production picked up the slack.  During that period I worked on some television series. One was about gangs of thugs used by the Mubarak government, another was about Copts and Muslims living together in harmony.

How does censorship compare now to before?

Actually, during Mubarak's era there was less censorship of cinema, especially in the later years when the government was becoming weak and had other priorities. Now there seems to be more fear in general - and artists are practicing more self-censorship.

In the 1960s and 70s, Egyptian cinema was more liberal. For instance you could show couples kissing, or women in bikinis. Now many actresses face Islamist and misogynist abuse on social media. Just look at the online comments about
Sins of the Flesh. Many are from Egypt's lost generation who did not experience the change they were hoping for after the revolution.

Filmmakers actually face less censorship now than journalists. Just look at recent films that were critical of the current situation in different ways -
Clash and In the Last Days of the City

You know we all supported the revolution. But what was so shocking - as evoked in
Sins of the Flesh - was the violence that accompanied it.

What do the characters in Sins of the Flesh represent?

There's a theme of the ruling class winning and the poor getting screwed. What is the character of Fatma, the young woman, all about?

For me Fatma represented Egypt - ultimately torn apart by different factions vying for power - the army, the government, the Muslim Brotherhood.
  More from Hadani Ditmars
- Take this waltz: Dance as resistance in post-Reina days
- The war on literalism, from Aleppo to Ankara
- Randomly selected: Canada's new anti-terror bill threatens civil liberties
- Remembering the revolution as curtain closes on Carthage film festival
- New Tunisian scenarios: Reflections from Carthage
- The Carthage film festival on very little sleep
- The red carpets and silver screens of Carthage
- Syrian children in Canada capture refugee life on camera
- The experience of swimming: Burkinis and fierce sea creatures

And her child of uncertain paternity was the fledgling revolution?

Yes. It's really the next generation that I'm worried about. All these young people who feel so betrayed by broken promises. During the revolution - as in the film, where the landowner's son is a would-be revolutionary - I never heard of the sons of the wealthy being killed. 

It was only the poor who had the misfortune of being shot.

Young people now are disillusioned and seem hardened somehow. Some of them have seen their friends killed in front of them - and, they ask, for what?

At screenings, many of them laugh at the line the father shouts at his son,
"don't believe Obama's bullsh*t!"

But more disturbingly, at one screening the young people in the audience laughed at the most violent scenes, when Fatma was being attacked. 

There's been a surge in sexual violence against women at the same time as the Islamist movement has grown: sexual frustration and harassment of women seem to go hand in hand. The Muslim Brotherhood talks about women as objects. And 65 percent of the population are young people - many of whom can't afford to get married. 

What are you working on currently?

I'm working on a script about an inter-racial and inter-religious romance in London between a Muslim woman and a Christian man - which would be illegal in Egypt. It's only legal if it works the other way round.

Are you hopeful about the situation in Egypt now?

The downturn in tourism and growing poverty are worrying. But it's safer now in terms of crime than it was three years ago. People are going back to the cinema, the theatres, walking on the street at night...

But your own film - such a critique of the establishment - faced censorship from the current government.

Well, the artists in Egypt are at the forefront of change. We are fighting back with our films.

Follow Hadani Ditmars on Twitter: @HadaniDitmars