Director Ayten Amin provides a new take on the old subject of a dying man taking stock of his life through the film Villa 69. Shot in an old home by the Nile, the location enhances the idea of frailty. The Nile itself is not gleaming with blue beauty, but is characterised by overgrown weeds and murky waters; a type of faded beauty. The main character, Hussein, is played by actor Khaled Abol Naga, who is aged by the magic of makeup.
Abol Naga delivers a convincing performance of an old, cranky man, unable to emotionally connect with the people around him. The type of sickness from which he suffers is never known throughout the movie. Viewers are allowed to see him receive medication and throw-up in a couple of scenes, but that is about it. The director wants us to know that it is not about the sickness, but the life the sickness is infiltrating and destroying. It is only after half the film has passed that we know Hussein is dying. Amin portrays the idea of death in the film the same way it is treated in Egyptian society; it is rarely talked about.
The film opens up to a very slow pace and the first hour seems to stretch out mercilessly. Until Hussein’s sister Nadra, played by Lebleba, and her grandson, played by Omar El Ghandour, come to crash in Hussein’s home, nothing really happens. Despite the slow start, the second hour of the movie is riddled with events and colourful characters.
Amin does not reveal much; we are only treated to snippets of Hussein’s past. The film resembles watching an old home movie rather than a film with a tight plot and rigid storyline. Events unfold according to their own pace to give a more natural feel. The characters are convincing; Sanaa, played by Arwa Gouda, is a 28 year-old photographer who seems confused about her life and relationship to Hussein. She is someone you know from college or see regularly at the gym. Nadra is a typical Egyptian aunt, who seems overbearing, but in reality is just worried about her brother.
Amin also portrays the nature of familial relationships in Egypt with authenticity; the tension between Nadra and Hussein over their parents’ properties and the strained relationship that softens with the approach of death. They all ring true.
The film is worth seeing, and despite the despondent subject, it is neither depressing nor sad, but greatly realistic.