Yearning to be as free as she feels when motorbiking the dusty back streets of Cairo with her Muslim boyfriend Tarek, 18-year-old Amal is torn between absconding to Italy illegally by boat with her beloved, or staying in Egypt with her Coptic Orthodox Christian family. Amal cannot bear to consider the future she faces as a poor woman in Egypt, reflected in the lives of her sister and best friend: one makes grave sacrifices so her son can have a better life, while the other prepares for a surgery to feign her virginity so she can enter into a loveless marriage to an older, wealthy foreigner. But even as Amal actively seeks out opportunities for self-sufficiency, it is ultimately fate that will determine her path.
Director Hesham Issawi's sophomore effort, co-written with Amal Afify, offers a rare, insider portrait of Cairo's working people from the perspectives of four young women struggling to carve out a better future.
Director's Statement Collapse
As an Egyptian American I believe that we can use the visual medium to bring cultures together and create better understanding of our humanity. Film can be an important instrument for social change, for bringing greater awareness to serious issues, and for shaping national and sometimes international dialogue about a variety of subject matters.
The story of Cairo Exit takes place in a small town in the outskirts of Cairo, Dar El Salaam, a city that inhabits mostly lower-class, working-class Egyptians. In the ancient time until the '60s this was the most fertile land, but now it's slums inhabited by all kinds of people—workers, teachers, drug dealers, etc.
This journey in the bewildering chaos of the city, the visual turmoil and disorder of color is all part of the frame in Cairo Exit. In this story everyone wants to leave and everyone has a secret of his or her own. Cairo is a city of layers, ancient civilizations crumbled over each other, covered by a modern way of life.
The challenge is to capture the light and dark contrasts of the city with fresh eyes—to create a visceral, immediate experience for audiences, immersing them in the sweltering heat and small alleyways. We're shooting in the heart of the city's infamous but rarely explored slums, capturing their energy and urgency on the fly, with an unforced realism.
Using a hand-held camera reflects the urgency of the city, the disorder of details and the perception of loneliness for the characters. Though the film is scrupulously naturalistic, in lighting, camerawork and sound design, somehow it belongs to the suspense genre, though it is suspense of character, not of plot. It is not so much a question of what will happen next, as of how the characters arrive, or fail to arrive, at a decision to act.
The whole film is a constant discovery, each new image striking our eye in a fresh way; the impression unfolds before us. Another key feature is the moving between indoors and outdoors locations, completely objectively, where the camera just happened to be.
This film is very close to my heart because I was born in Cairo and coming to it with fresh eyes and eagerness to capture its density.