Press – Excerpts

“The programming at the Mostra [São Paulo International Film Festival] was remarkable, yet by festival’s end I preferred five films above all. They take place within the Egyptian slum of Mafrouza, in Alexandria, where the French filmmaker Emmanuelle Demoris stayed between 2002 and 2004. The series forms a documentary record of the neighborhood’s residents, relocated after the government demolished Mafrouza in 2007 to expand an industrial port. But the films also work with the density and complexity of great fiction, offering people with nuanced, self-aware, self-contradictory, always-evolving inner lives.”

Aaron Cutler, SLANT MAGAZINE/THE MOVIEGOER (Best of 2011)

“A film with this many intertwining lives and stories, requiring far-sighted considerations made in both shooting and editing, is a downright miracle.”


“The five episodes found a documentary epic genre that is unheard of and magnificent. These twelve hours spent the furrows of poverty, in this necropolis populated by large lives, have priceless political value.”

Philippe Azoury LIBERATION

“The opposite of poverty pornography, or of well-intentioned socio-ethnographic pedagogy. Everyone we discover in the presence of the camera is a conscious subject, with an individual story. The film places us in a relationship with each. And on the bridge between the viewer and the place shown by the camera, which is never entirely crossed, Mafrouza arrives at a point that few other films have ever reached.”


“Twelve hours? We barely notice the time passing. A documentary? Rather, this is an extraordinary cinematic experience. And let’s note the means by which the film explodes any gloomy presuppositions on the subject: Warmth, beauty, music, humour, intelligence, pride, sharing, impudence. One might also mention, from the outset, the exceptional nature of what is shown: the people, incarnated in all their suffering and their joy, in their impertinence and their dignity, that which the general system of images does not acknowledge; life itself, celebrated with a carnivalesque frenzy, a disorder of devotion and truculence, all the way to the waste in a social rubbish dump. All this in short is what makes Mafrouza a world film, a monster film, a shock film, a film the likes of which we have almost never seen.”

Jacques Mandelbaum LE MONDE

“In a dream world where television might take real risks, Mafrouza would be a great summer saga – there are tales of love and pretty thugs, neighbourhood rumours and passionate songs, and, with the entrance of some fundamentalists, a very political battle over control of the neighbourhood towards the end. On the one hand, we have a descriptive power that feeds on the complexities of reality, on the other, one of the most beautiful treatises on the passions that we have seen in recent years on the big screen. One thing is obvious: the immersion of Emmanuelle Demoris, engaged in “a relationship of love in the widest sense” with what she films, pushes away the grids of Western readings, with topics labelled “sensitive” (the place of women, religious extremism, etc.).. This is where the duration plays its part: aligning blocks of words, collected from backyards and kitchens in precarious dwellings, the director allows the poor but lucid inhabitants, who are never blinded (by the discourses of religious fundamentalism) to be heard.”

Ludovic Lamant MEDIAPART

“Intimate and societal, political and poetic, raw and romantic, tangible and symbolic, comic and tragic, rude and sensual, embracing the global and the specific, the home and the world, social injustice and the energy of life; an ode to the spirit of resistance, Mafrouza is simply an essential film.”


“It is not here a question of filming poverty and social exclusion. The characters of Mafrouza do not inspire pity. On the contrary. What Demoris discovers – and this is the meaning of the film,  the fact we can learn from them – is to be not only be their family, but also their equals. In fact, the community in which Demoris decided to settle is a concentration of civilization, remaining a sophisticated, secular, and urbane culture after the attack of globalization and its counterpoint, religious fanaticism. What we see in Cairo is what we have learned in Buenos Aires, Paris and Tokyo, thanks to neighbourhood life: the world is sometimes a place where ideas circulate, where ideas are traded amongst the working classes. And it is rare that the viewer gets the impression that those who appear on the screen are part of the family. And this is never the case in the  rich mileu that is the Arab world, which cinema has consistently ignored, except for the most aggressive and the most picturesque elements. The key to Mafrouza is the total absence of the picturesque. Demoris seems to have gone to Mafrouza because she realized that, like ourselves, she has always belonged there.”


“One cannot list all the magical moments that bloom periodically throughout this twelve-hour film-fleuve, during which you never get bored for even a second, and after which you will regret leaving the characters.This film is a scathing reply to the pervasive stereotypes of ethnicity, of essential otherness, of difference that freezes a collective identity. We are in Alexandria, these people fascinate us because their relationship to the world is often different from ours, always giving food for thought to our dormant inner amateur ethnologist. But, at the same time, these people are simply modern, diverse individuals, like you and me. Much poorer, of course, and noticeably warmer and more friendly. This lack of overhang is the treasure of the film. This film event is not only beautiful, but necessary.”

Pierre Veltz ESPRIT

“The honour of living is the true subject of Mafrouza, an honour displayed in laughter or gesture, in glances and facts. We can believe in the humour and dignity-without-rage of many of the protagonists of this humanist fable, modelled on life itself. When watching Mafrouza, our familiarity is complete, intense and fraternal. We would like to name each and every person, protagonists and institutions included, who played a part in the development of this generous and free work.”


“There will be as many novels as encounters, but a slim link makes the unity of this patchwork: the irrepressible life force. The capacity for inventiveness that is here revealed, be it the verbal inventiveness of young men singing at a marriage, the physical inventiveness of a woman managing to bake her bread in the rain, or the discovery of a ‘courtly’ poet within a confirmed macho figure. And all this in a city of the dead. What a lesson it is!And the most important thing here is less what is said (although rarely has such a gaze been placed on ordinary daily lives) than in the way the film-maker and her camera are involved in neighbourhood life. She does not hide: she is one of them, setting up shop with them just like the woman who, in order to cook her bread, must build an over in what was the space between two tombs. To bake bread –  setting up the oven with the necessary technique, with rubble, some sand, stones but no bricks, since they might explode – is  to resist. Is an act of life. It is like singing together on ‘boys night’ at a wedding, the head of the choir plunging into the shoulders of his comrades, or speaking a poem, drawing a bird in the sand that a foot will later erase. So, all these characters, who we leave behind in one episode to find again in another, do not act: they are there, full of the verve and the joy of appearing without artifice. And, among them we find ‘Iman’ (Emmanuelle), as she is known to her hosts. She does not show herself, however; she remains hidden by her camera, but this camera, too, plays a part in the game that puts everyone, filmer and filmed, on the same footing. It is a rare sight.”

Emile Breton L’HUMANITÉ

“The relationships are built up over time, with the necessary conquest of mutual trust. Because the director does not hide her presence, peoples’ reactions become a narrative element. This is one of the strongest challenges for Demoris in terms of the notions of  ‘truth’ or ‘invisibility’ that prevail in the cinema of the real, understood as reportage, or, worse still, as submissive to its subject, in this case poverty. Here, on the contrary, despite the rubbish, the lack of structure, of water and of everything else, the image is that of everyday life, of a life that is a struggle, with love, anguish, passion, and inwardness.”

Cristina Piccino IL MANIFESTO

“From of these inhabitants, forgotten by the world and often cheated by opportunistic fiction films, the film-maker has constructed epic characters. She has restored their dignity by raising them to the to the rank of fictional characters or human figures from the great epics. Two elements give the characters and the film their epic scale: the time (the time is taken in order for all the characters to appear in all their complexity) and the integration demonstrated by the director in the neighbourhood and among the inhabitants. And the high value of the film is that it talks about characters in the midst of life, existence and destiny, and we thus discover models of struggle against death, poverty, destruction, absurdity, and nothingness. This could be anywhere: Egypt, São Paulo, Calcutta. What matters is that it is happening today everywhere and at every point, and this gives us some hope. The important thing is that, as Abou Hosny attempts to teach us, only fighting gives life its greatest value and makes us say that life is worth living.”

Salah Hashem AL QAHIRA (Cairo)

[A comment by Jean Narboni] [Press – Links]


One thought on “Press – Excerpts

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