Monday, March 02, 2020

Not the ideal way to watch Baghdad Thief

Many years ago, after posting something about enjoying an Iranian film and how it was a different perspective on the region than we usually get in America, someone pointed out that such films are generally made for French film festivals, and that most of the people there were watching Egyptian action movies, romantic comedies, and the like. So, while you could learn something from them, you were often getting the face they were planning to show to the world.

So, I was kind of excited to see Baghdad Thief and The Money booked in Boston this weekend; I can't remember mainstream Egyptian films playing here before. Unfortunately, the timing didn't work out - the subway was out of commission near both Alewife and Fenway, so I had to choose one or the other, and went with Baghdad Thief at Fenway.

The Regal and Fandango websites both said "Subtitles". There were no subtitles, except for when somebody was not speaking Arabic. After about five minutes or so, I realized what was going on, but what was I going to do, go out to the front desk and ask them to interrupt the show for all the folks there who did understand the language when it clearly wasn't booked for me? Seemed like kind of a jerk move even for an $18 ticket, so I figured this wasn't a hugely complicated movie, so I'd ride it out.

And I got the gist, although some of the more specific bits didn't sink in. Better luck next time, hopefully.

Liss Baghdad (Baghdad Thief, aka The Thief of Baghdad)

* * ½-ish (out of four)
Seen 1 March 2020 in Regal Fenway #6 (special engagement, DCP)

So, obviously, I'd have more to say about the film if it had English subtitles, but it didn't. Which did not exactly stop me from enjoying it so much as it highlighted the extent to which a lot of genre films use the same template or are a little bit of exposition tying action scenes together. They scratch an itch, and this one did fine by that.

It is, from what I could tell, a fairly amiable action/adventure story, with a hero, a sidekick, and a headstrong love interest who actually knows the ancient history that will help them on their treasure hunt. There's a rival and a villain or two, and most everybody seems to do their parts well enough, with Muhammed Emam mostly looking good in the action scenes and Yasmin Raeis cute and kind of sassy. There seem to be more jokes about Emam's Yousif about to hit Raies's Salma in response to her being pushy than you'd see in a Western movie, which isn't cool, and it doesn't escape my attention that the villains tended to speak English to each other when they weren't addressing Yousif, which is how I picked up a few details of the plot I wonder, idly, how often that is used in these movies to mark the bad guys. It's also interesting to see Baghdad come across as just another city rather than some war-torn hellhole when the plot takes Yousif and company there. I don't know how much was shot on location and how much is Cairo redressed, but it's not the view Hollywood often gives us these days.

Production-wise, it's mostly smooth but not Hollywood-slick, maybe a notch above VOD quality. One of the things I could read in the credits indicated different stunt teams, and it feels like this played a huge part in the film often seeming to be of variable quality - the Cairo-based team was pretty decent, but director Ahmed Khaled seemed to need to work around some of the others a bit, and they didn't always mesh with the VFX work. We're used to slicker in America, but I don't think it's far off some other markets.

I do really wish there'd been subtitles, so that I could get an idea of how a lost-treasure movie plays when the Egyptians are the heroes rather than the sidekicks (often played by westerners wearing fezes). Hopefully the next time one of these shows up, it will be more tourist-friendly, or maybe I can find a good list of things available on Prime.

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