Khaled, the title character of Youssef Francis’ The Addict, has the kind of idyllic family life that you only see at the beginning of a movie where things are about to go radically and rapidly south. So overwhelmed is he by the narcotic bliss of middle class complacency that he fails to observe even the most basic principles of driver safety. Out for a recreational spin with his wife and young son, he attempts to steer with the kid in his lap, while at the same time playing the harmonica and canoodling with his wife (no, I am not making that up). The result is a weird, fake (I think) slow motion car crash that sees Khaled thrown from the car while his wife and son, trapped inside, slowly roll into a shallow marsh. This somehow kills them, and the injured Khaled wakes up in a hospital ward as a screaming morphine addict. When the doctors try to wean him off the drug, he stages a violent escape to stagger wild eyed among the populace.
The Addict is what folks nowadays would call a “recovery narrative”, but what strikes me about it is how much it resembles a classic monster movie. Ahmad Zaki, a highly regarded Egyptian actor who has played both Nasser and Sadat, plays Khaled as a sort of reverse Jekyll and Hyde who, when deprived of his drug, transforms into a caterwauling, preverbal beast barely capable of human congress. He is, however, a tragic beast – in the mold of Karloff’s Monster or Laughton’s Hunchback – shambling about with a pathetic stoop, one arm stiff at his side, and a look of utter bafflement on his face. There’s even a scene where his doctor has to protect him from an angry mob. When Zaki really wants to underscore his anguish, he throws an arm across his forehead like a consumptive in a Victorian melodrama.
Eventually, Khaled’s doctor, Doctor Ahmed (as played by another heavy hitter, Adel Adham, whom we last saw in Ayna Tukhabi’un Al-Shams) turns his care over to his physician daughter Layla (Nagwa Ibrahim). Layla, however, has wounds of her own to heal, having just had the surprise of seeing the fellow doctor she’s been maintaining a long distance romance with step off a plane with his new wife. All of the groundwork is laid for Layla to make as much of an addiction of Khaled’s treatment as he does of the morphine. And Khaled indeed makes for a challenge, escaping at the nearest opportunity by clobbering Layla’s female assistant and scrambling noisily through the streets of Cairo like a recently tasered bonobo. Layla is thus forced to scour the mean, mostly back lot bound side streets and back alleys of the city to find him. Once she does, she resolves to avoid a repeat performance by locking herself in with him in the facility in which he is undergoing withdrawal.
Aside from one graphic injection scene, The Addict spares us any of the actual, gritty details of narcotic addiction and withdrawal. We will see no projectile chundering or Trainspotting style bed shitting. Instead what we get is an eventual cut to a smiling Khaled wearing a crisp suit and speaking in complete sentences as Layla looks on approvingly. And, because this is a movie, they have fallen in love. Now all that remains is for Khaled to return to the scene of the accident to confront and expunge his guilt over it (even though, to be honest, it totally was his fault). But then arises the little matter of a box of Morphine, stolen from the hospital Khaled has just left; will the resulting suspicion shatter Khaled and Layla’s new love before it has even begun?
Director Youssef Francis was a painter and author as well as a filmmaker, yet there is nothing particularly painterly or novelistic about The Addict. It exhibit the same high level of technical acumen seen in most Egyptian commercial productions, if perhaps on a slightly more low budget scale, as well as a pastel color scheme that cements it firmly within the early 80s. What makes it, excuse me, addictively watchable, however, is the hysterically over-the-top quality which the performances of Zaki and Nagwa Ibrahim bring to it.
As enjoyable as it may be, though, one thing no one should ever do is mistake Zaki’s performance for an accurate portrayal of addiction. I mean, if narcotics actually had that effect on a person, how would all of that great jazz music ever have gotten made? Or this review. THANK YOU, DRUGS!