Film Review: ‘Excuse My French’ Unraveled
When word got out that director and scriptwriter Amr Salama (Zay El Naharda (“On a Day Like Today”), 2008 and Asmaa, 2011) was creating a new feature film starring unknown child actors, tackling religious segregation and that was rejected by the folks at the censorship office for four consecutive years, radars went up and all film critics and movie buffs – this one included – were intrigued.
The Film Reel
Inspired by the filmmaker’s avid online fans’ school experiences and Salama’s own torturous, yet educational three-year experience at a public middle school, Excuse My French follows a school boy’s forced journey and struggle to fit in a drastically different school environment, right after the abrupt death of his father. Hany, a young Christian school boy, the film’s central character, dedicates all his time and energy to becoming accepted. He goes from being class clown to science wiz to class bully and even temporarily turning his back on his own faith.
The film turns a blinding spotlight on integral aspects of child psychology and behavior that may sometimes go unnoticed by adults. The importance of social acceptance, feeling victorious and being given super hero like status amongst his or her young counterparts.
The cast ensemble included a number of budding talents, namely the film’s protagonist, played by rising child star Ahmed El Dash, in addition to several guest appearances of some of the industry’s most popular stars, including Syrian actress Kinda Aloush, West El Balad lead vocalist and actor Hany Adel, Asser Yassin, Hend Sabry, Salama’s own father, Mahmoud Salama (in the role of the headmaster of Hany’s private school) and narrated by comedian Ahmed Helmy. The film is produced by Mohamed Hefzy’s Film Clinic.
Salama’s Excuse My French is a non-complex piece of storytelling told through the eyes of a young school boy. It is a subtle, humorous and somewhat childish take on religious segregation, social integration and acceptance and the heart wrenching state of public schools in the country.
The film starts off with a series of long shots, perfectly composed frames to instigate Hany’s ideal family and life. The TV ad-like perfection shots inside the house will soon be disrupted by the chaos and rapid movement of the school yard and classroom shots.
Throughout the film, Salama resorts to using a melange of camera movements – long shots, deep focus and continuity editing – to correctly stylize the film and to seamlessly translate the different settings. Attempting to make the audience feel that they are watching a single coherent movie, as opposed to watching two entirely different films – at the school and inside Hany’s house. And it has to be said that he has managed to do that with flair.
Credit must be given to Salama for his ability to weave a tragic and life altering occurrence, like the death of Hany’s father into a somewhat comedic side plot that forces the audience not dwell too much on. Definitely something that his young viewers will give him points for.
While it may seem plausible within the context of the film’s narrative that Hany is enrolled at a public school on the verge of educational, social and financial collapse, namely to highlight the weepingly dire state of the majority of public schools in the country, the choice of school seems quite unrealistic. In reality, the mother would have probably opted to enroll him at yes a cheaper school but not as bad as this one; the mother would have chosen to make different concessions to make ends meet.
Adult movie goers will miss the exhilarating, jaw-dropping thrill of the action genre and the well-rounded complex psychology of characters, and may not appreciate the lack of character development of some key roles, namely of Hany’s mother played by Aloush. On the other hand, school children, Salama’s primal target audience, will appreciate that very same thing. Excuse My French may lack the heartfelt intensity, aesthetically pleasing shots and masterful art direction of Salama’s 2011 documentary-like feature Asmaa, but it is bound to engage, entertain and give all its viewers, both young and old, something to laugh about and something to think about.
Kudos to Salama and the rest of his cast for bringing to center stage three surprising young talents (Hany, his friend and the bully), standing their ground for four long years and having the balls to craft a movie that depicts and tackles such pertinent social taboos. Despite its flaws, Excuse My French has garnered itself a spot on the shelf of the “must see” movies of the year.
WE SAID THIS: Don’t miss our Q&A with Director Amr Salama.