Johanna Domke and Marouan Omara’s ‘documentary’ is a strangely beautiful thing. Presented in the Documentary section of the Festival, it’s never entirely clear how much of this movie is documentary and how much isn’t, to be completely honest, I don’t think it really matters.
We are gradually presented with a group of workers at a luxury hotel in Sharm El Sheikh, a destination bereft of tourists since terror attacks saw flights removed from the destination. Every day these workers go through their rituals as if the tourists were still there, singing to an empty pool, DJing to an empty club and waiting constantly for anyone to need a taxi.
If that sounds bleak, it kind of is but the movie has more going for it than just presenting these things on face value. intercut with the scenes of day to day life for the protagonists we get glimpses of them wondering in the desert and each takes a turn following a monkey on a truck. Yeah, you read that last bit right. It’s a brilliant concept given the purgatory nature of the workers’ existence. The truck cruises the roads around the hotel, ostensibly to drum up trade for it but in reality it serves as a banner that the workers seem ever doomed to follow. They walk behind the truck talking through their hopes and dreams with the inflatable simian. Each has left an existence elsewhere to attain paradise in the desert but, unlike Dante’s Pilgrim, each seems destined to be forever mired in Purgatory, unable to earn the money required to head for other destinations.
The impressionistic tone of the movie works well with the banalities of the day to day life for the workers. The Statue Man stands forlornly with his guitar, only breaking his pose to greet fellow workers. In his downtime he bemoans how quickly the day used to go when tourists validated his occupation by stopping for pictures. A girl from the ‘Animation Team’ (that is, the entertainments team), curses being bunked in with a cleaner, only to eventually form a friendship with her and the girl from the diving centre (the latter only ever seen at work unenthusiastically washing snorkels in a pool). And a masseur gamely negotiates the use of the taxi driver’s apartment in order to give a private massage, forbidden at the hotel - later he ruminates on how his parents do not approve of his occupation, but then, the alternative is as a barman for a fraction of the money.
The pieces of the movie stack up into an appropriately dreamlike state, images of clouds of insect spray billowing out of palm trees emphasise the abandonment of the property. Yet the hotel team continues, locked in a loop of tourist-centric activities. These are people who were lured to the easygoing charm of Sharm but having arrived, were cut adrift by forces beyond their control. Their time in purgatory now set, they do the best they can whilst they seemingly await the day that things return to normal.
This is a fascinating documentary that takes its time to bed in to your mind but once you fall into the rhythm of the workers, it offers a strange joy to behold. A unique piece certainly but one definitely based in the reality of our current world.