Sometimes, It's Good to be a Follower
Following the positive reactions it attained in Toronto and Gouna Film Festivals, Amr Salama’s latest feature finally lands in our very own cinemas to precede its screening in London Film Festival, aiming to make an impression before carrying on its compact touring schedule. So as soon as the film hit the theatres, we were already queued for tickets to attend the highly-anticipated Sheikh Jackson.
Basing its plot in the year 2009, Sheikh Jackson is centered on a salafi sheikh whose life is turned upside down with the death of Michael Jackson, who happened to be his influencing idol during his childhood. Following this, the film proceeds to highlight the ups and downs of the sheikh’s persona and how his former experiences have sequentially shaped his current straying self, portraying his life’s story of pain, struggle and self-discovery.
As a director, Amr Salama has repeatedly displayed what qualifies him to be categorized among exceptional cinematic figures, but it’s his storytelling techniques and non-linear narrations that turned him into a distinguishable filmmaker and assisted his productions in enjoying critical acclaim. Such unique identity has always embraced Salama’s projects; he takes it upon himself to solely construct his films’ screenplays, but when it came to scripting Sheikh Jackson, the 35-year-old ended his habitual solo performances to team up with Omar Khaled, yielding exquisiteness through a stunning film.
In addition to the excellence of the acting, the storytelling aspects of Sheikh Jackson represented a primal pillar that profoundly spiced up the 90-minute experience. As it navigated three remarkable intervals in the chronicles of the protagonist, the narratives of the film enjoyed smooth transitions between the examined periods. Such fluency in the flow of events paved the film’s road to introduce its diversified subplots of romance and patriarchy.
Unlike the conventional sequence of Egyptian movies where a brief glance can reveal the whole plot, Sheikh Jackson doesn’t even inform you of its main character’s name till the film’s closing minutes, which should give you a glimpse of the standards we’re dealing with here. Throughout its chapters, the film was in no rush to unfold the protagonist’s origins, which framed the character’s development through a quite intriguing aspect that kept us hooked. On the other hand, the film utilized the comical element to its benefit with laughable dialogues which eased up the tensed moods every once in a while.
In regards to the directing job, Sheikh Jackson is without a doubt a turning point in Amr Salama’s career, as it visually surpasses all his former productions — it’s filled to the brim with symbolism and genuine emotions that he abundantly imbibed his frames with. From the layout of the film’s opening logo till its concluding minutes, Salama’s brush kept painting his indirect messages to enrich the authenticity of his scenes. His convenient revivals of the vintage eras also managed to capture the charm of the displayed periods, from the obsessive cassette tapes of the nineties till the trendy-at-the-time Nokia mobile phones that used to rock in the late 2000s.
As for the actors, Sheikh Jackson features an outstanding performance from the film’s star Ahmed El-Fishawy whose embodiment delivers one of the best Egyptian performances in the past decade. His on-screen appearance showed his devotion to develop the look, tone and attitude of his character and that aided him to top the film’s acting performances. On a similar note, Maged El-Kedwany and Ahmed Malek were one the same page as El-Fishway; spontaneous and dazzling, along with Salma Abo Deif whose quite lovable personification delivered her best appearance to date.
For the discreet yet entertaining content it offers, Sheikh Jackson is definitely a remarkable testament to the quality of Egyptian productions, and the fact that it’s representing Egypt in the annual race of the Oscars’ shortlist despite its limited budget certainly cues our ambitious filmmakers to go on with filming regardless of the financials and their ideas’ bizarreness.
Sometimes, It's Good to be a Follower