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GOCRITIC!

GoCritic! Review: Dream Away

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- In our first story from GoCritic!, Nick Mastrini reviews Dream Away, the German-Egyptian co-production screening in Documentary Competition of Karlovy Vary

GoCritic! Review: Dream Away

The Sunrise Arabian Beach Resort lies on the coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Sharm el-Sheikh, far from the sprawl of Cairo and at a comfortable remove from the Sahara Desert. In the hybrid documentary Dream Away [+see also:
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, it is a purgatory, neither urban nor rural, gilded like city architecture but as sparsely populated as an arid plain. Following the Arab Spring at the turn of this decade, regional uncertainty has struck the town’s once-booming tourism trade so that the beach resort, once a magnet for western tourists, now fails to attract guests. The film follows those left behind: seven employees who yearn for healthy relationships and prosperity.

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Co-directors Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke, the former an Egyptian filmmaker and the latter a German visual artist, are drawn to these individuals at the fringes of post-revolutionary Egyptian culture. Having previously collaborated in 2013 on Crop, which explored the 2011 revolution by observing the inner workings of a state-run newspaper, Omara and Domke once again suggest a national narrative by observing detachment and absence. Whereas in the earlier film the directors eschewed conventional images of revolutionary crowds in Tahrir Square, in Dream Away the absence of guests at the resort provides a surreal snapshot of a harsh financial reality. An establishing shot midway through the film captures this hybrid quality, as the symmetrical path leading up to the resort façade is engulfed in an artificial mist.

Observational scenes see characters such as Shosha, an activities leader, and Taki, a DJ, perform their duties routinely despite a complete dearth of participants. Shosha leads an aqua aerobics workout, in which the PA exclaims, “Wakey wakey Sharm el-Sheiky” to a non-existent crowd, while Taki dusts off the turntables at the resort’s idle club as we witness the sole rhythmic movement of a cleaner and his mop. Away from this empty idyll, a group of individuals wanders across a desert environment in the low light of dawn, as if stumbling home from a party. These scenes, intercut across the film and signalled on each occasion by the pulsing reveries of Bilgehan Ozis’ score, witness the Sunrise employees embarking on a fictional escape.

Contrasting with the regimented routine of their lives on-shift, the employees’ journey is dreamlike and guided by an anthropomorphic inflatable creature, referred to as Black Monkey, perched on a Chevrolet pick-up truck. The incongruous figure has a droll human voice that asks enticing, personal questions to the characters in tow. Another uncanny image arises when a woman receiving a massage transforms into a mannequin via a single jump cut. These non-linear and surreal episodes suggest an antidote to the boredom and loneliness of life at the resort, allowing the individuals to act out their desires. Jakob Beurle’s cinematography, which drenches scenes in sunlight and bleeding neon colour, conveys the conventions of a relaxed idyll in daylight and a hedonistic nightlife that the film’s seven characters cannot experience.

Taki later enters a vibrant nightclub scene as the camera tracks his silhouette from behind. Its vitality appears too good to be true until a conclusive shot from above, lighting only his face as he directly addresses the camera, finally suggests the subjectivity of the scene. Gesa Jäger and Louly Seif’s editing is especially impressive in this vision of a circus-inspired club night, representing a fantasy through fluid, hidden cuts. The seven characters are a travelling circus of their own, a motley crew journeying without a known destination and finding solace in the journey itself. Whether looking out from the beach towards the Red Sea or wandering across the desert, they are only able to imagine a life of true comfort beyond the resort.

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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