Few Arab films tackle the Islamic State (ISIS) but El-Armouty Fi Ard El-Nar (El-Armouty in the Line of Fire), a recently released Egyptian film, dares to fight the extremist group’s ideology through humour.
“I thought of making a film about Daesh through a character the audience will love and show how the terrorist group has infiltrated many aspects of life, not only in Egypt, but also in other Arab countries,” film director Ahmed al-Badri said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “We attempted through the film to expose their lies and deception.”
Badri said comedy can be a tool to fight extremism.
“The audience’s reaction after watching the film proves that our message has been delivered successfully,” he said.
“The film is quite funny with el- Armouty throwing jokes all the time and making fun of Daesh and other extremist groups,” Heba Fawzy, a 37-year-old housewife, said.
The key character in the film is el- Armouty, played by Ahmed Adam. El-Armouty is a simple man who is shocked to see Mohamed, played by actor Mohamed Adel, the son of his neighbours whom he helped raise, drop out of college and grow a beard, returning home after a year’s absence to accuse his parents of being “infidels”.
El-Armouty goes on holiday with his in-laws to Marsa Matrouh, a coastal city in north-western Egypt on the border with Libya. He jumps off the boat with his wife and her brother-in-law before it collides with a ship. He drifts ashore at the northern Libyan city of Sirte where he is captured by ISIS militants who mistake him for a member of al- Nusra Front, the former affiliate of al-Qaeda terrorist organisation and an ISIS rival.
El-Armouty miraculously escapes being beheaded by ISIS by getting involved with the militant group. Inside the camp, he either follows the orders of ISIS leaders or dies. He discovers that Mohamed had joined the group and is at the camp.
El-Armouty attempts to engage in a debate with the militants over the ideas they promote through a series of humorous situations.
“Schools turned into prisons and gardens turned into execution yards,” he says sadly, commenting on what becomes of Sirte under ISIS.
At one point, he fools the ISIS leaders, convincing them that he is on their side. At the same time, he attempts to save Mohamed and win him over by trying to reason with him and show him that ISIS misinterprets the true meaning of Islam and its teachings.
“How did they persuade you that it is OK to kill?” el-Armouty asks Mohamed.
In several other scenes, he humorously tackles the takfiri thinking of ISIS as well as disagreements between ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“I can’t get it. The people of Allah are fighting fellow people of Allah,” el-Armouty says, joking when ISIS members engaged with al-Nusra militants.
Badri said the “film’s theme is a simple one… I only try to deliver a message to the audience, namely terrorism cannot win the battle.”
El-Armouty is ordered to carry out a suicide attack in Egypt but the attack turns into a heroic action on his part.
“You antagonised the government at first but now you will antagonise the whole people,” el-Armouty tells Mohamed, referring to the Egyptian people. “And believe me, you will never overpower us. We are 90 million and we are all ready to become 90 million martyrs.”
While the film tackles ISIS terrorism, it does not show bloody action.
“The challenge for us was to present the subject of bloody terrorism without viewers resenting it,” Badri said. “I thought there must not be a drop of blood in the film. We make a political comedy but do not want to give ISIS much importance by portraying blood in the film.”
It took the crew two years to complete the film.
Even though the main idea of the film is interesting, critics said, the plot is not quite coherent, with many comic situations not serving the main theme. On the other hand, Adam tends to repeat the same character of el-Armouty that he plays in other works, using the same jokes, they added.
“The film is rather weak, depending only on a series of jokes told within a script that is not concrete,” critic Magda Khairallah said.
Tarek el-Shenawy, another critic, agreed.
“What we see has nothing to do with cinema,” Shenawy said. “In the film, we can only see Adam occupying the whole space and nothing else.”
This is the third work in which Adam appears as el-Armouty. He played the part in the comic television series El-Armouty Fi Mohema Sereya (El-Armouty on a Secret Mission) in 1998. He also played the character in the film Maalish Eha Benetbahdel (We are Being Screwed) in 2005.
El-Armouty Fi Ard El-Nar was written by Alaa Nabawy and Mohamed Hassan and produced by Ahmed al-Sobky.
- Marwa al-A’sar is a Cairo-based journalist.
- Copyright ©2017 The Arab Weekly.