Sleepless Nights

Reviewed By Greg Muskewitz
Posted 02/06/04 17:10:12

"Grapplingly truthful and honest."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A connubial portrait from Egypt of four couples suffering roadblocks in their current state of affairs. Conservatively produced (a kiss is seen from behind a frosted glass frame), the subject matter it takes on full force is not so veiled and protected in this very mature (a/k/a sluggish, adult, pedantic) work.

As the one couple who is not married says about the institution, “There are no guarantees.” No joking around. The crossover to a bonding commitment is their own stumbling block. The other three marriages have issues of other sorts: the wife of a cheat must deal with his infidelity; another couple struggles through unfulfilled sexuality; and the last have issues of clashing class backgrounds and parental disapproval. Though far more nuanced than that alone, director Hani Khalifa goes to diplomatic extremes in favor of all eight characters, and evenly between the sexes (though he isn’t afraid to show a lack of sympathy to those wrong). The four men are all friends, whether through long-course relationships, or because of the connections through their wives, and after the birthday party of one couple’s little girl, each couple suffers a disastrous series of fights, sending the men — either by force, or by choice — out of their homes in Cairo for a trip to Alexandria. There are some exquisite characterizations, strongly written by Tamer Habib, who is clear to give each person a distinct and well-developed personality. Relying heavily on spoken action instead of physical action, the pertinent themes of any given marriage — here, a partner’s change, or lack of, the past, indecisiveness, unclear expectation, conflict of interest — are in fact explored through the consequences of their actions. (How nice to see the concuspient and sybarite portrayed without needing to show every example of it.) And through its pedestrian topicality, Khalifa’s decided clinginess to strictly deal with the norm as though it isn’t a norm to his characters, Sleepless Nights attains a grappling truthfulness and honesty. But getting back to his diplomacy, it also sees that every length of fairness is sought, which can and does drag this to an unbudging 130-minutes. (Egypt’s Oscar submission.) With Mona Zaki, Hanan Tork, Sherif Mounir, Gihan Fadel, and Ahmed Helmi.


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