For many Egyptians, this country is not a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of”. Instead, many individuals leave their hometowns, where prospects appear dim, in search of a more promising future in foreign lands.
While some embark on their journey to exit the country through official channels, others turn to illicit methods of migration — any path that will transport them to the destination of their aspirations, which is what newly released Egyptian film ‘Voy! Voy! Voy!’ (2022) is centered around.
In the film, Hassan (played by Mohamed Farrag) is an ambitious yet destitute young man who works as a security guard. From the onset, Hassan appears to be willing to do anything to venture to a life abroad — whether it is attempting to manipulate an elderly rich British woman into marrying him or illegally crossing to Europe by boats. What he later concocts blurs the line between morality and ambition. He is no longer an underdog who yearns for success, but a Machiavellian character, whose ends justify the means.
Directed by Omar Hilal, ‘Voy! Voy! Voy!’ has not only prevailed in demonstrating a captivating and gripping narrative adventure, but has also made its way to international waters, chosen to represent Egypt in the 2024 Academy Awards, competing for best foreign film.
The film’s cast, which features comedy giant Bayoumi Fouad and rising star Taha Dessouky, misled me into presuming that it would solely evoke belly laughs. Yet, while this was true for most parts, I found myself leaving the theater with a certain uneasiness and heaviness at the shocking reality it presents — so brace yourselves for a watching experience that will encompass moments of laughter, tears, and profound conviction.
Note: Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers. The below discusses key plot points of the film.
The Story: The End Justifies the Means
Coming from humble beginnings, Hassan desired nothing more than to leave Egypt in pursuit of better opportunities abroad. Although he had a job working as a security guard, he believed in his core that there is no room for growth for him in Egypt.
Willing to do anything, Hassan first attempts to manipulate a 70-year-old British woman into marrying him so he can acquire British citizenship, but his plans are shattered when she suddenly dies. His second attempt to flee the country was considering crossing the Mediterranean to Italy, where he would have to pay smugglers EGP 30,000 (USD 970), and still his safe arrival would not be guaranteed.
Nevertheless, Hassan is not dismayed; by pure coincidence, he finds a newspaper article featuring a team of blind football players who are due to take part in a global tournament in Poland — what happens next is the first of a series of events of shock and outrage.
All the players, except for the goalkeeper — who is not blind — are blindfolded. The ball is modified to make a jingling sound so the players know which way to go, and are required to say “voy” which means that they are going for the ball.
So, in a desperate attempt to flee from his circumstances, Hassan buys a white cane and a pair of sunglasses, and embodies the persona of a blind person. He goes to meet with the head football coach, Captain Adel (played by Bayoumi Fouad), and he agrees to let him join the team.
Naturally, Hassan seems to be the most skilful of all the players. He acts fully blind so that he does not have to play with his sunglasses or with the blindfold during practice. Before heading to Poland, the team goes to a tournament in Kenya, and there, Hassan’s facade is uncovered by Captain Adel. He confronts Hassan and tells him that he will have to let him go once they are back in Cairo, and promises to not let anyone know of what happened.
Yet, Hassan, so close to his Polish dream, skillfully strikes a deal with him. Captain Adel is to let Hassan travel with them to Poland and make them win the tournament in return for letting him escape to European lands.
Hassan manages to deceive his teammates as well as Engy (played by Nelly Karim), the journalist who is writing about the team and later falls in love with Hassan. However, a liar can only deceive so many people; before heading to Poland, the goalkeeper notices that Hassan can actually see. In an attempt to avoid getting caught, Hassan gets his friend to hit him with his motorcycle to give Hassan an excuse to not travel with the team.
It is then that Hassan and Captain Adel learn that the head of the team and club, Dr. Raouf (played by Mohamed Abdel Azim) has been onto their plan from the start. He pulls out a pair of lenses, and tells them that Hassan is not the only person pretending to be blind in the team. Rather, only people who are actually blind in the team are only a handful.
Dr. Raouf blackmails them and tells them that he is willing to let Hassan come to Poland if he agrees to pay Dr. Raouf an amount of money. Hassan does not agree to paying the amount in full. Instead, he demands that he will only pay some of the amount and will also bring his two best friends with him, Saeed (played by Taha Dessouky) and Amr (played by Amgad Al Haggar), or they will expose Dr. Raouf’s facade.
The team travels to Poland, and when it is time to leave for the match, they can’t find their teammate Ashraf and his wife. When they go looking for him in his room, they find his cane and glasses and a note that says “hatewhashoony” (I will miss you). They learn that they have been played by their teammate who seemed to be the most poised, calm, and collected of all — they could have never suspected that he was, too, pretending to be blind to escape to Europe.
They all decide to run because if he gets caught by the police, then all of them will. They run as fast as they can, and scatter all over the place. Eventually, the film ends with all of them in different places in Europe — some are still working jobs, like janitors, that would not have been any different had they stayed in Cairo.
As for Captain Adel, he ended up working as a cook in a restaurant in Italy, and tells the audience that the only person he knows the whereabouts of is Hassan. He explains that it is not because they frequently talk, but because he found him online, which, by the last scene, insinuates that Hassan is working in the pornography industry.
The Watching Experiences: Blues and Laughs
It is impossible to watch the film without laughing at the pure comedy that the cast presents. Yet, as I was watching a film with a star-studded cast, I found myself feeling very uneasy at the reality of things. I found myself burdened by the fact that there are people willing to abuse something such as being blind for their own benefit — a skewed moral compass that has unfortunately become increasingly common.
What made me more uneasy is the fact that this is a true story that occurred in 2015. The players were from the Egyptian Blind Sports Association and al-Iman club, one of Egypt’s paralympics sports clubs. Reports indicated that once the fake players arrived in Europe, they vanished. According to Egypt Independent, the Youth and Sports Ministry referred 16 people in 2016 to the General Prosecution over charges of approving the travel of at least 12 sightful people to Europe in place of visually-impaired footballers who were supposed to take part in an international competition in Poland.
Something that also caught my attention during the film was how there was little to no consideration for people with disabilities in Egypt during that time, where even on national IDs, it is not written that they are blind. However, that has been gradually changing, with the law approved in 2017 that aimed to grant facilitations, rights, and more empowerment to the persons with disabilities (PWD) in the country.
Aside from all the realizations, ‘Voy! Voy! Voy!’ is surely a film that is strikingly bold, suspenseful, and equally funny at times. It draws on the emotions of the readers, often making them sympathize with what could have led Hassan and the others to resort to something as wicked as this, and at other times, making them feel angry at the abuse of power and sight — leaving the audience to ponder the complex interplay of these themes.
It is also one of the first films to feature the pornography industry in a less than subtle way, which led the film to receive some criticism for its boldness. Yet, this is what makes ‘Voy! Voy! Voy!’ one of the best films produced in Egypt in the past years — it is not afraid of speaking of the truth that is happening all around us, especially in Egypt. In all its complexity and mixed emotions, ‘Voy! Voy! Voy!’ is Oscar-worthy, in my humble opinion at least.