Dream Away, directed by Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke, is the holiday you never had. While tourism industries reshape coastal cities, the consequence for some destinations is not always rosy.
In Sharm El Sheikh, between the cheesy dance tunes and endless deckchairs, are empty bars and restaurants and vacant car parks. The characters we meet are people, trying to make ends meet, in a situation that they never expected. They came to Sharm El Sheikh for fame, wealth or a change from the strict expectations of conservative Egyptian families. Now they are trapped in a continuous cycle of sunbathing and dance tunes.
Our insight into this surreal world is led by those who committed themselves to the tourist industry that’s faded away. Hoss, the muscly husband and father, who prides himself on his Dodge 4×4 Taxi drives for hours without taking a single passenger. Shosha, a young women, sexually liberated and tattooed with “fuck everyone” down her forearm. Romeo, the human mannequin, who clearly gains immense satisfaction from his playful enterprise while also being forced to take a fifty percent pay cut. Hossaya, the house cleaner, who doesn’t want the “hassle” of a husband or children and, when she has a moment, she’ll thrown herself on a bed for a moment’s peace in the comfy quality of the hotel she works within. Such comfort she cannot afford herself.
At only 86-minutes long, Dream Away is observational. We get to peek behind the scenes of a resort, to see the employees who pay the cost of political upheaval. The Arab spring may have liberated many, but others are trapped in a world that hasn’t evolved to accept their differences. Divorcees, cheating husbands and DJs are situations and professions that can’t be discussed. Taki, a DJ at Pacha and Space, tells friends about a girlfriend who attended a wedding with him. She was a dancer and they had to leave separately as his parents would not condone their relationship.
It is a strange, isolated world, where the director uses a monkey on a pick-up truck to question his characters. They talk to the monkey as if it represents the city they hoped it would be. In brief moments, the subjects will turn to camera, and reveal a small nugget about their personal lives. It’ll catch you off-guard, almost as if it is a reminder; these are not merely employees, at tourists beck and call, they are people too – like you and me. Dream Away is a calm, intriguing exploration into a world we’re not expected to witness.
These people are lost in a desert, with nowhere to go as they await their future. The cutaways to the planes that fly overhead hint at the promise of change but there is tragedy that nothing comes. We recognise the world they live in. The glorious sun and plastic paraphernalia around the swimming pool are the same at every resort. The matching t-shirt and shorts on the hotel workers and faux-cabins that we accept as false, but appreciate its purpose nevertheless. Dream Away lingers around a little longer and refuses to let us step aboard a plane and ignore the consequence of political conflicts. Quietly reflective and patiently observed, Dream Away whisks you away to the sun and sand you’re not meant to see.
This was originally published as part of the London Film Festival coverage for Cultutrefly.co.uk in October 2018