Film industries around the world are beginning to address the widespread phenomenon of powerful men exerting control over female actors. What happens if those roles were reversed? This is the question that drives the absurdly comedic plot of Ahmed Amer’s Kiss Me Not, a parody film about the abrupt religious conversion of a well-known Egyptian actress. Kiss Me Not, initially released in Egypt last year, was one of 20 films played at the 2018 Twin Cities Arab Film Festival in Minneapolis this September.
Kiss Me Not centers around Tamer (Mohamed Mahran), a young director in the process of making his first movie. During the shooting of the movie’s crucial final scene, which is supposed to feature a passionate kiss between the two protagonists, Tamer and his crew are shocked when their lead actress, Fagr (Yasmine Rais), spontaneously refuses to kiss her co star despite having played multiple “seductive” roles in the past.
Take after take, Fagr either botches her lines or shrinks away in disgust from her arrogant co star at the last moment. As Kiss Me Not progresses, Tamer struggles to persuade an increasingly headstrong Fagr to film the scene. Fagr, however, eventually refuses point-blank to shoot any scenes without wearing a veil.
Fagr’s drastic transition into a more religious way of life is a source of comedic frustration for Tamer, whose entire project is derailed by the actress’s unexpected choices. Meanwhile, a crew member decides to film a behind-the-scenes documentary of the conflict, conducting humorous interviews with Tamer, Fagr and others involved. The documentary serves as a narrative frame for the film.
Viewers are led to sympathize with Tamer, who is portrayed as earnest and determined in his quest to complete his first film. He is extremely discouraged by the scenario and feels powerlessness in the face of Fagr’s lack of cooperation. Fagr is notably less sympathetic, as her dramatic religious conversion comes out of the blue without any deep exploration of motivation, and is more often than not portrayed as self-centered and hyperbolic. Her career success, unlike Tamer’s, is essentially untouched by her decision: she appears on a cooking show and maintains a solid base of devoted fans despite the lifestyle change.
Kiss Me Not, noted critic Deborah Young, reflects a recent “trend [in Arab countries] toward conservative onscreen dressing, which began in the early years of the millenium on a wave of politically-inspired emotion.” Kiss Me Not addresses this phenomenon by including a documentary-style montage of passionate kisses featured in old black-and-white Egyptian movies, emphasizing the recent nature of Fagr’s decision (and of the decisions of the real-life actresses she is based on).