One real craziness of a movie comes to us from Egypt, and “Feathers” by feature film debutant from Egypt Omar El Zohairy is one of those discoveries that makes it worth wasting your time on numerous similar exotic and much weaker titles. The absurdist tragicomedy with which El Zohairy won the main prize at the critics’ week in Cannes is a brilliant theater of the absurd, a film whose role model could be found in the Finn Akio Kaurismäki and his deadpan comedies, and due to the exceptional mixing of naturalism, surrealism and crazy fantasy, the inspiration seems to be partly drawn from Bulgakov’s masterpiece “The Master and Margarita”.
It’s a film with minimal dialogue that starts off like an almost typical social-realist drama as we follow this seemingly typical lower-class Egyptian woman doing all the standard household chores. She takes care of three children, constantly cleans the dirty and decaying apartment located right next to the factory where her husband works. And it’s a factory that looks like it was moved from the Soviet Union in the fifties, the environment there is unimaginable, absurd and it’s almost impossible to even think that people really live there. However, the apartment is lively because the husband, who hides money from his wife in a tin box in the closet, constantly organizes some terevenkas, people gather there and hardly pay attention to the wife who constantly cleans, cooks and prepares, and the key moment will happen during the celebration on the fourth birthday of one of their sons.
The party will just start to heat up, the men’s team will start throwing the ball, and as at any real children’s birthday, there will also be a magician. At one point, the magician will ask the husband to enter the big box to participate in one of the tricks. By some magic, a white hen will appear in the coffin instead of the tall and lanky husband, and the real disaster will happen when the magician realizes that he cannot bring the man back. No one knows where the husband disappeared and what happened to him, and when he realizes that he has done shit, the magician will quickly wipe out and leave this family first in amazement and shock, which will later turn into an insane existentialist drama.
Or rather, tragicomedy or black comedy, total silliness and superb surrealistic and absurdist banter that doesn’t stop. It was “Feathers” almost like Kaka’s “Process” but in an African-Arab style, because while a woman whose existence with her children is now completely threatened since she no longer has a husband and breadwinner will try to feed the family, everyone around her will behave as if she is something normal that instead of a husband she now has a white hen. It is clear that this film is both an exceptional parable and a subversion of the patriarchal society there, in which a woman is nobody and nothing without a husband, but “Feathers” is great because it pushes that situation and that issue beyond all limits of extremes. Nothing is normal here, so when a woman tries to find a job in the factory where her husband worked, she will get the answer that they cannot hire women, but that’s why there is work there for her six-year-old son.
Everyone from whom she will ask for help will, in principle, treat her politely and civilly, offer her support and comfort her, but when it is necessary to show it concretely, everyone will just move aside. She is under constant pressure to pay the late rent even while her husband was there, but the biggest problem she faces and the question she can’t find an answer to is how to treat the chicken she got instead of her husband. So the hen will soon have a whole room to herself and will be better fed than she or her children, and she will spend all her savings and go into debt to find various witch doctors and shamans who claim to be able to undo the spell and replace the hen with her husband again . This wacky film was a real discovery and an absolute recommendation for all those who like these kind of twisted stories.