Egypt has suspended screenings of Lebanese film and pop star Haifa Wehbe’s latest movie after criticism over scenes deemed sexually provocative.
Interim premier Ibrahim Mahlab ordered “Halawet Rooh” (Beauty of the Soul) off the screens until the censorship board reviews it again, the prime minister’s office said late Wednesday.
The Egyptian-made movie, said to have been inspired by Monica Bellucci’s 2000 hit “Malena”, was released nationwide on April 3 for adult-only audiences.
Leading distributor Al Arabia Cinema, which owns more than half of Egypt’s cinemas, said it has now stopped screening the film.
The plot revolves around Rooh, played by Wehbe, who ignites passions among men in her neighbourhood when her husband is away.
Wehbe’s revealing clothes, sexually explicit movements and scenes of a young boy fascinated by her have stirred harsh criticism in Egypt.
Independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm lashed out in a review headlined: “Halawet Rooh: how to produce an Egyptian porn movie.”
“The movie doesn’t miss one scene of Haifa without her exposing a part of her body,” Ramy Abdel Razak wrote in the review.
“In the only scene where she is dressed modestly… the clothes are torn off her in a provocative way,” the reviewer said.
Egypt’s National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, a government body, said the film posed “a moral danger” which could impact “public morals negatively”.
It praised Mahlab’s order as “responsible and wise”.
The premier’s move was seen as unusual since films with provocative scenes have been approved by the censorship board in the past.
Individual complaints have been filed against such productions amid media campaigns calling for their ban, however.
The prime minister has no right to stop screenings, former culture minister Emad Abou-Ghazi told AFP, adding that he should have referred the issue to the ministry, and it in turn could have asked the censorship board for a ban.
Abou-Ghazi said there was also a court order “forbidding any external interference in the workings of the censorship board”.
Mahlab’s order to pull the film was the “first of its kind”, said film critic Tarek al-Shennawi, adding that it appeared to have been “taken in response to social pressures”.
He said that all previous presidents had interfered at some stage to allow movies that were critical of them to be screened, but not to ban a film.
Mohamed al-Sobky, who produced “Halawet Rooh”, dismissed criticism of his film.
It contains “nothing that outrages public decency”, he told Al-Mehwar television, adding that Qatar was the only Arab state where the film was not being shown.
One commentator saw possible sinister connotations in the ban.
“The one who bans a movie because he thinks it breaks morals will ban a movie” tomorrow for political reasons, television host Ibrahim Eissa said.