‘Voy! Voy! Voy!’ Review: Egypt’s Oscar Submission Offers a Blackly Comic Look at Immigration

From its jaunty animated credits to its absurdly satisfying conclusion, “Voy! Voy! Voy!” is a saucy and blackly comic look at immigration. An entertaining first feature inspired by stranger-than-fiction actual events from seasoned adman Omar Hilal, here serving as director, writer and producer, Egypt’s official Oscar submission nabbed the top spot at the local box office for two months following its mid-September domestic release and also played well in the Gulf states. Boasting a smart screenplay with serious undertones and a powerhouse cast with impeccable timing, it’s an audience-friendly affair that could score some distribution in the west.

The action is set in 2013, a time of political turmoil in Egypt, although that is not overly stressed. Cheerfully amoral chief protagonist Hassan (Mohamed Farrag) is willing to try almost anything to escape his financially challenged, dead-end life as a security guard and head to Europe. When his opportunity to upgrade from gigolo to husband of a 70-year-old British woman ends abruptly and the expensive journey touted by people smugglers proves too complicated (the scenario vividly played out in Hassan’s imagination is hilarious), he decides to feign vision loss and join a special needs soccer team who are almost on their way to the Blind World Cup in Poland.

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The other main character (and the film’s voiceover narrator) is the team’s gentle coach, Captain Adel (Bayoumi Fouad), who hopes that the players’ success will lead to further coaching gigs. He’s happy to welcome the apparently talented Hassan to the squad, although the newcomer’s skill and coordination attracts the suspicion of the team’s sighted goalie.

At this point, the tightly plotted setup spirals out into a web of amusing complications involving Hassan’s equally discontented friends, Amr Edra (Amgad El-Haggar) and Saeed (Taha Desouky), his hard-working mother (Hanan Youssef) and the warm-hearted journalist (Nelly Karim) who, in the process of crafting a human-interest story out of the team’s journey, starts to develop romantic feelings for the squad’s new hero. After a variety of felonious activities played for laughs, the end result offers some unexpected twists.

Beneath the pacey comedy, writer-director Hilal makes clear the lack of opportunity that causes his characters to want to leave their country for a better life. Theirs is a stuck generation, educated but lacking the circumstances in which to actualize. The 30ish Hassan lives with his mother, who still does backbreaking cleaning work. Food delivery courier Saeed must care for his mother and sister on his pittance of a salary, making it impossible to marry his longtime girlfriend who is ready to move on. Only Amr Edra shows any entrepreneurial spirit, opening an internet shop where he peddles downloaded porn to desperate youths.

Captain Adel doesn’t have it any easier. He was once headed for a professional football career, but an injury put an end to that. Now old and out of shape, he’s an underpaid, part-time PE teacher, the family chef, main carer for his handicapped son and subject of his wife’s scorn.

It’s the spot-on performances of Hilal’s dynamite cast that really puts the whole thing over, in particular Farag as the charming rogue Hassan who remains appealing in spite of his sins and Fouad as the overwhelmed Captain Adel, whose tender relationship with his son encapsulates his true good nature. While the female characters (including megastar Karim) don’t have much to do, they are all strong-willed and morally grounded.

The film’s fine technical team is led by Lebanese DP Yves Sehnaoui’s bright cinematography, which gives a heightened cartoonishness to some scenes. The film’s title literally translates as “Here I Come” in Spanish and is what the blind soccer players call out on the field to avoid collisions.

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