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Why ‘El Harifa’ is Egypt’s Newest Feel-Good Movie

February 17, 2024

More often than not, what allures movie-goers and enthusiasts about the films they watch is who is starring in them. Famous and popular stars can often make or break a film. Hence, when the poster for Egypt’s newest film El Harifa (The Professionals) revealed that it is a movie starring a new generation of young actors and actresses I was hesitant to see it — but going there changed something in my perception of the movie, and possibly, the future of films in Egypt.

Directed by Raouf El-Sayed, El Harifa stars, Nour El Nabawy, Ahmed Ghozzi, Selim El Turk, Khaled El-Zahaby, Nour Ehab, stand-up comedian Abdel Rahman Mohamed, rapper Ahmed Khaled — famously known as Kozbara – and everyone’s biggest surprise, Egypt’s iconic football player Ahmed Hossam Mido. The concoction — albeit not familiar to many — resulted in one of Egypt’s best ‘feel-good’ movies that have emerged in the past 10 years. It is impossible to see it and not believe that these young actors have the potential to be Egypt’s next rising stars.

In my opinion, El Harifa will be the stepping stone for future films in Egypt — and possibly the Arab world. Besides its compelling and heartwarming, the filmmakers’ faith in the actors is a testament to the changing tides of cinema in Egypt — an opportunity that will foster investment in Egypt’s young talents.

Note: Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers. The below discusses key plot points of the film.

The Story: The Underdogs

Maged (played by Nour El Nabawy) is the typical starboy at his high school. In a sense, he has it all — the impressive football skills, the pretty girlfriend, the money. He is super popular and has it all perfect — until he doesn’t. Unexpectedly, his father encounters problems with his work and is forced to sell everything they have. Overnight, Maged is forced to go live with his grandmother and leave his international school to continue his education at a public school.

What seemed like Maged’s worst nightmare later became the best thing to ever happen to him. At first, Maged is overwhelmed by the new school — he isn’t used to the lingo they use, how things operate, and how to make friends with the rest of the boys. Yet, his passion — football — is what changed everything for him in the school.

His first friend at school, Omar (played by Abdel Rahman Mohamed) is his window to understanding how the school operates. He tells me the dos and don’ts — and tells him that the school is run by one big group, which consists of El-Sheshtawi (played by Ahmed Ghozzi), Hetta (played by Ahmed Khaled), El Noss (played by Khaled El Zahabi), and Karim El Salhoub (played by Selim El Turk).

One day during break, as the group is playing football, Maged showcases his football skills. Impressed by his skills, the group invites him to play football with him — but not the football he is normally used to. They invite him to play street football — and a whole new world opens for him.

From this point forward, an unbreakable bond starts between the boys — all because of their love for the game. Through their time together, Maged learns the meaning of loyalty and true friendship. Everything he lacked before, he learned because of his friendship with them — he learns what it means to have your friends’ backs, to give without receiving anything in return, and to truly be a team player.

One of the instances is when Hetta’s mother had to undergo surgery, and the boys had to win a football match that would win them the expenses for her surgery. In other circumstances, Maged would have taken his sum of the money for himself; however, he didn’t think twice about doing it for his friend.

The other instance is when Karim El-Salhoub is sent to jail because of money his family owes — the boys decide to enroll in a competition called ‘El-Harifa’ where the winning team wins a prize of one million EGP. There were two catches to this competition: one was that they needed to enroll with the school name, so the boys got the help of Captain Shalash (played by Mido). The other catch was that they needed to pay 30,000 EGP (980 USD) to enroll. Hence, Maged and Sheshtawi seek the help of one of Maged’s father’s friends — however, when they were asking for the money, Maged asked for 50,000 EGP (1,624 USD) so they can bail Karim out of jail with the rest.

Maged’s character development is shown when he is offered the chance to go play professional football in Spain. However, that would have meant that he was going to leave his team during the final match in the competition they enrolled in. Although he was going to pick what was good for him only, he decided to stay back, and they ended up winning the match.

The Watching Experience: A Movie Theatre or a Football Stadium?

If there is one thing Egyptians will agree on — its their united love for football. It is truly an unspoken language between Egyptians — and it is evident in the movie. However, football in the movie is not just shown as a mere sport, but as something that unites friendships, bridges societal and cultural gaps, and exudes true happiness.
One of the movie’s greatest aspects was that it didn’t rely on big names or massive productions to gain viewers’ attention. Rather, it was its simplicity and authenticity that really captured the hearts of its watchers. I think this film will open doors for other directors and producers to really invest in the younger generations and have them take leading roles.

Watching this movie in the theatre is an experience on its own. When it came down to the scenes with matches, the anticipation of the people inside the theatre was palpable. It felt like we were watching a real-life football match — on the edge of the seats, we were clapping and shouting when one of the boys would score. I didn’t feel like the movie was two hours long — whether it was because of the lively music, the anticipation, or the true chemistry between the actors: it was truly a delight. However, one thing I would change about the film is that its ending kind of ended abruptly, with Maged scoring in the penalty shoot-out at the game. Many viewers are left with lingering questions: whether there will be a second movie or not?

Overall, El Harifa is a masterclass of acting, direction, and scriptwriting. It is a film that could have been swept under the rug of cliches: but it wasn’t. It guarantees room-wide smiles throughout the theaters — and a growing love for the sport of football.

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