If there were a prize for most topical movie at the Cannes Film Festival, it would go to Egyptian entry "After the Battle," whose completion, its director says, is a political act in itself.
Yousry Nasrallah's film is set after last year's overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. It was filmed in the streets of Cairo while the uprising and its uncertain aftermath were still unfolding, with a cast that mixes professionals and non-actors.
The director said Thursday that making the movie had been an act of faith in art "at a time when the cinema is being attacked in Egypt as a sin."
"(The) arts are being criticized by the Islamist parties, and my commitment and the commitment of the actors ... was a commitment in favor of the cinema," said Nasrallah, whose film "Gate of the Sun" screened at Cannes in 2004.
"After the Battle" is one of 22 films competing for the coveted Palme d'Or at the French Riviera film festival, which runs to May 27.
The film's crew worked amid the fear of intimidation from members of the old regime or Islamists, who are vying for power in Egypt's first post-revolution presidential election next week. The largely secular and leftist forces who led the revolution have no viable candidate in the race, and many who championed change now fear for the future.
Nasrallah said the movie was shot under a code name, "to make it sound like a romantic comedy."
It isn't that, but nor is it a political diatribe.
"After the Battle" focuses on the relationship between wealthy Tahrir Square revolutionary Reem (Mena Shalaby) and Mahmoud (Bassem Samra), a poor horseman from the foot of the Pyramids who has seen his livelihood disappear along with the tourists and has been involved in an attack on protesters.
The characters on both sides are more messy and complicated than they initially appear. Nasrallah said his goal was to make them all human.
"We wanted to show individuals faced with major events who refused to be crushed by history," Nasrallah said Thursday at a Cannes press conference.
"It's about a man who is trying to regain his dignity for himself and for his family, and a woman who is trying to find a place in an Egypt that is changing.
"When there is a dictatorship you end up hating yourself," he added. "I think the Egyptian people deserve this love letter we ended up making through this film."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://twitter.com/JillLawless