views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

My Brother The Devil (15) - Director and Cast Q&A
Cineworld, Haymarket
5th September 2012


It feels like I've seen a lot of London in the cinema recently, from the everyday hustle and bustle of the tube in Shadow Dancer to the contemporary, affluent architecture of Canary Wharf in The Sweeney. And there is more of London to follow in My Brother The Devil, but rather than the part of London we show off to tourists, it is the rougher-round-the-edges Hackney that takes centre stage, with gun crime, gangsters and drugs.

In her first feature-length film, writer-director Sally El Hosaini introduces brothers Rash (James Floyd) and Mo (Fady Elsayed), second-generation British Egyptians living with their parents on a tired-looking housing estate. Although both boys embrace Western culture, the traditional values instilled by their family remain close to the surface, with Rash constantly switching from drug dealer to concerned big brother in a blink of the eye. He initially rejects the possibility of getting a proper job, convinced that continuing to sell cocaine is his only future, but is resolute that Mo should do as he says rather than as he does and get a decent education instead.

It is this devotion to his brother that tragically causes Mo to effectively take Rash's place in the world of Drugs Money Guns, despite Rash's wishes to the contrary. Idolising his brother completely, Mo can only perceive the gang culture his brother has been a part of for so long as something desirable, with disasterous consequences of Shakesperian proportions. The brotherly dynamic between Rash and Mo is key to the film, with Floyd and Elsayed showing a very natural rapport.

Supporting the protagonists is a strong cast made up of trained actors and locals, which helps add to the film's credibility. Best known for his role as Saïd in French film La Haine, Saïd Tagmaoui plays a pivotal role here which almost runs on from that famous performance in becoming almost a super-ego, the critical and moralising middle ground between all action and all thought. Here, Sayyid is a former gangster who has rejected the violence based on first-hand experience of it ruining his friends' lives. He challenges Rash's attitudes, sexuality and dreams, encouraging him to accept his true identity and become more than just his environment.

Despite the gang culture and homophobia, the film has an overwhelmingly positive message. Along with Tagmaoui, Letitia Wright serves as a symbol of hope, bringing a beautiful serenity in the part of Aisha, a young Somalian girl who moves into the same estate as Mo and Rash. Seemingly incorruptable, whilst Aisha is aware of the violence around her, she is determined to co-exist with it rather than embrace it. Like Sayyid, she is sure of who she is.

Helping El Hosaini deliver an authentic street patois is Aymen Hamdouchi, who doubles up as gang member Repo in front of the camera and script consultant behind it. In the Q&A that followed the film, El Hosaini revealed that they had to rewrite the script several times to keep the dialogue current. Not hailing from Hackney myself, much of the language remains a mystery to me, but it certainly has the air of being authentic.

A mention must go to the gorgeous camerawork. Many of the shots used are medium close-ups with a selective focus on the character in the foreground, creating a claustrophic and isolated feel and capturing strongly the emotions of each scene. As Mo begins to feel trapped by his new lifestyle, a soft focus in the background is used to hint at the etheral, which, combined with the use of aggressive close-ups, creates an almost dizzying feel which mirrors Mo's troubled state of mind.

Having already scooped a large amount of awards and nominations worldwide, My Brother The Devil is set to feature in the 56th London BFI Film Festival in October 2012, where it surely will take home more praise. The characters that El Hosani writes may not be ones that we see frequently on the big screen, but this is why her work is so refreshing and why she is a rising talent worth keeping an eye on.

My Brother The Devil was screened at the London BFI Film Festival on 16th, 19th and 21st October 2012, before being released in the UK on 9th November 2012.

Nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly, Bakerloo)

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