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In the context of the Women International Film Festival, the film Back to Alexandria by Swiss-Egyptian director and screenwriter Tamer Ruggli was screened at ABC Dbayeh on April 15, 2024. The premiere was a bustling event, with two auditoriums packed to the rafters.

Sitting on staircases at the premiere of Back to Alexandria, spectators were eager to immerse themselves in the cinematic magic. This atmosphere brought a semblance of cinematic enchantment to Beirut, overshadowing the regional crisis. For two hours, a different realm enveloped those craving culture and human warmth, shielding them under the wings of fantasy.

After a twenty-year hiatus, Sue, portrayed by the poignant Nadine Labaki, returns to her native Egypt to reconnect with her mother, the dauntless Fanny Ardant, playing Fairouz, an eccentric aristocrat from whom she had estranged. This astonishing journey, taking her from Cairo to Alexandria, is infused with distant memories, nostalgia and mixed feelings about her past, ultimately liberating her. Reflecting on his mother’s stories, director Tamer Ruggli shared, “I grew up listening to her tales, archiving them and retelling them as if they were episodes from my own life.” He quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “I am from my childhood as I am from my country.” When asked, “What remains of all this?” he responds, “My memories.”

The film is a familial portrait steeped in childhood memories, indelibly colored and scented by the vibrant past of Egypt. It is also a narrative of mourning, or how one confronts orphanhood in the face of one’s existence. Cinema expert Émile Chahine stated that he liked that kind of human movies. “We feel that childhood is far behind, and we must reconcile with ourselves,” commented Rose-Marie Chahine, author, philosopher, psychotherapist and president of the Émile Chahine Foundation. Sue’s confrontation with her past reestablishes her connection with this umbilical cord, allowing her to sever it while also diving back into her Egyptian roots, echoing the charm of bygone Egypt, where even Feyrouz sings Warda’s Harramt Ahebbak. Perpetually surprising, Fanny Ardant shines with vitality, her humanity captivating the audience. Opposite her stands Nadine Labaki, reflecting her in a startling resemblance, with expressive eyes and emotions teetering between tears and laughter, embodying “joy in pain.” Two generations, mother and daughter, each bearing their lives’ secrets and spilling their lived and aborted passions. Nadine Labaki impresses the audience with her linguistic agility, effortlessly shifting from French to Egyptian Arabic, “It’s the adventure that counts. The team, the film, the people I meet during filming… All these help me slightly shed the mantle of directorship.” Reflecting on her work with Fanny Ardant, she openly admits, “It was a dream to see her. I was not only fortunate to work with her but also to interact and converse with her. We shared our life experiences, and I discovered in her, beyond the actress, an extraordinary woman and a wonderful human being.”

The film’s showcase on Egypt followed a tribute to the country’s esteemed actress Yousra, which had kicked off the festival in grand style the previous night, April 14, 2024, at the Casino du Liban, celebrating a legend who captivated generations glued to their screens.

Instagram: @mariechristine.tayah