This is probably as close as you will ever get to a leper. Leprosy has been eradicated in most parts of the planet, but still persists in some of the most impoverished countries. The highly contagious disease is immediately associated with removal from society and seclusion. Yet you won’t regret you came into contact with these adorable human beings. Yomeddine gives you the opportunity to embrace, look into the eyes and deep dive into the hearts of these outcasts.
The story starts out in a colony of lepers somewhere in South of Egypt, where Beshay (Rady Gamal) was abandoned 30 years earlier as a child by his father. He has a wife and lives happily with the other members of the colony. There is a real sense of community, and they seem to lead a relatively peaceful existence despite their condition and the abject poverty. Their main source of work and entertainment is a nearby landfill, which they nicknamed Garbage Mountain. Just like the contents of the site, these people have been discarded by society.
Then one day Beshay’s wife tragically passes away, and he decides to ride to the North of Egypt on a makeshift cart pulled by his donkey Harby. He’s also joined by his young sidekick “Obama” (Ahmed Abdelhafiz), a orphan with whom he develops a paternal bond. Along their journey, they come across a number of disabled people: a lorry driver who lost his legs in an accident, a midget and many more. They are all supportive of Beshay’s task. Able-bodied people less so, despite the fact that Beshay is no longer contagious. He’s been cured, but the protuberant tumours and lesions were replaced by permanently and very unsightly scarred skin. His fingers are gnarled, his hands contorted, his nose stumped and his face craggy with bumps. There’s a say in Egypt which explains their attitude: “run from a leper like you would run from a lion”.
This is a comedy that manages to find humour in a very difficult and painful topic, and to challenge die-hard taboos. The lepers are neither sanitised not fetishised. Neither infantilised nor romanticised. They are human and loving. A lot like the characters of Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932). A breath of fresh air in a cinema industry that’s often scared of presenting disabled people exactly as they are. Yomeddine also reminded me a lot of the Brazilian film Central Station (Walter Salles, 1997), where a child and an adult cross the poverty-stricken hinterlands of Northeastern Brazil also in search of a father. Both the Egyptian and the South American film are extremely moving in their representation of a the marginalised seeking to rekindle their sense of purpose by searching for a long-lost relative.
And don’t forget the hankies. The ending of this dirty “feel-good” movie is as stirring as it can be!
Yomeddine showed at the 71st Cannes Film Festival taking place right now, when this piece was originally written. The film was partially funded by the means of a crowdfunding campaign. It premiere in the UK a part of the BFI London Film Festival taking place between October 10th and 21st.