There’s never been a film quite like director Mohammad Shawky Hassan’s Shall I Compare You To A Summer’s Day?. And, if the Egyptian government had its way, there never would be again.
Known as Bashtaalak Sa’at in its original Arabic language, the film is a cinematic experience like no other. Described as both a queer romantic drama and a contemporary quasi-musical, Hassan’s feature has a rhythm all its own.
Inspired by the Egyptian filmmaker’s diaries, Shall I Compare You To A Summer’s Day? is, on its surface, the story of two men who meet and quickly fall into bed with one another. After a night of passion, they spend the morning after recounting their past loves, and the experimental feature finds itself re-litigating their own fateful meeting again and again.
Told through monologues, interviews, and striking artful interludes, these stories of love and longing are spun into gorgeous folk tales, threaded together with the sounds of Egyptian pop music. Hassan’s imaginative approach to autofiction may be too eccentric for some, but the director sure knows how to lure his audience in with gorgeous colors, handsome actors, and imaginative editing.
Since premiering at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Shall I Compare You To A Summer’s Day? has been warmly received as its played the festival circuit. But not everyone is a fan.
Government officials in Hassan’s native Egypt have denounced the film for its frank depiction of gay men’s romances and sex lives, and have worked to ensure the film will never screen in the country.
As the Arabic-language website Fil Fan reports: “The film will not be screened in Egypt for several reasons. The first is the unwillingness of production authorities to [cooperate] with the regulatory agencies in Egypt, especially since the film includes a large number of intimacy and sexuality scenes between male actors, which is inconsistent with Egyptian censorship laws. The second reason is that the film was primarily made for screening at film festivals.”
The head of Egypt’s Federation of Artistic Syndicates has even gone as far as calling on the government to strip Hassan of his citizenship, stating that he is “presenting a work of art that highlights the worst of us.”
Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-familiar tale, especially abroad, when the government tries to step in and silence or censor artists simply because their work centers LGBTQ characters and stories. Still, we’re glad the international festival circuit has allowed audiences to find Hassan’s work and others that showcase the lives of queer Middle Eastern people.
If you’re in the U.S. and happened to miss Shall I Compare You To A Summer’s Day? at one of its many festival screenings, you’re in luck because the film is now available to watch via Dekkoo, the subscription streaming service dedicated to LGBTQ film and television. You can watch its stirring trailer below: