Late one night on Netflix, I found this Emirati football comedy from the UAE (United Arab Emirates). When I started watching Red Card (Kart Ahmar), I was quickly confused. I hadn’t had any exposure to Arab humor, and given how conservatively Islam is portrayed in the media, I had assumed that Arabs don’t laugh much. I used to think that about Germans too, but I was wrong.
The film launched straight into the story without opening credits. A middle-aged husband and wife were yelling at each other, with the husband using football metaphors. As the film established the backgrounds of 2 families of characters, I thought I was watching a Jewish comedy, except that the men were wearing thobes (Emirati call these dishdasha) and head coverings known as ghutrah. The 2 middle-aged mothers were very overweight, and one of them was in Western clothes with heavy makeup, huge fake eyelashes, pumped up lips, big boobs, and no veil.
Wait a minute, I thought, is this a satire? Are these Jewish actors pretending to be Arabs? Or are these Arab actors pretending to be Jewish? Because with the actors’ shrieking and histrionics, they could have been yelling Hebrew, and I wouldn’t know the difference.
As the film progressed further, all the men wore Arab clothing. One daughter went to work in a long-sleeved black robe (abaya) and headscarf. Transition scenes showed freeway signs leading into Abu Dhabi and showcased the city’s tall mirrored buildings and skyline. I finally accepted that this was an Arab story in Abu Dhabi, but it was a bit of a sand dune of ethnic confusion for me to climb.
In Red Card, 2 middle-aged brothers are enemies who compete against each other in business and fanatically support opposing football clubs. Hemeid follows the fictional club Tadamon and bases his company hirings on whether or not a candidate is a fellow supporter. While both brothers appear to be wealthy, Hemeid seems to be the lesser businessman (although he owns a restaurant). The only way Hemeid can beat his brother in a deal is to milk his nephew for inside knowledge, by plying him with desserts.
Hemeid’s wife — with the Western appearance — is an incompetent TV presenter. They have an adult daughter and son, and the son is secretly active with another rival club — he’s either a player, a fan, or a mascot — I couldn’t figure out which.
Having more wealth and more aggravation, the more successful Ebeid suffers from a heart condition. He is upset he is losing deals and doesn’t realize the leak is his dessert-loving son. His daughter secretly writes for the national newspaper, with a column that attacks him for his fanaticism that puts football before family. Angry Ebeid is suing the newspaper to find out who is writing these slanderous articles.
Both brothers rule their households and put football before family and business. They are more alike than they realize and each is even willing to pass up a business deal if it would mean missing a game. They are interviewed on TV and melt down into an old man tussle.
And then suddenly, everything is reconciled. The 2 brothers make up, they listen to their wives and children, and Emeid’s son announces he is going to marry his cousin, Hemeid’s daughter. They all go to a game together. The end.
I couldn’t find much info about this film, but it appears it was originally released as 98 minutes long. The version I saw on Netflix was truncated to 61 minutes. So it would appear that someone (UAE? Netflix?) cut 1/3 of the film for USA viewers.
It doesn’t seem like a light decision for Director Nasser Al Tamimi, who invested his own money into this, his second feature film. It probably wasn’t a huge amount though, as it took only 5 months of preparation and 14 days of filming. The residential sets are extremely simple, the cast is small, and the production values suit a very small screen. But, like the Saudi soccer drama Fan of Amoory, Red Card is the product of a nascent Arab film industry. That an Emirati director could even create a modern comedy like this and distribute it to a worldwide market is probably a huge accomplishment.
While shocking to me, I learned that cousin marriage is quite common in the Emirates. Cousin marriages are called bint ‘amm marriages, or marriage with one’s father’s brother’s daughter (FBD). Across the Arab world in 2003, 45% of married couples were related (2nd cousin or closer). A 1997 study showed that 26% of UAE couples were first cousins. Cousin marriages preserve wealth and family ties, but obviously a small percentage incur genetic defects in offspring.
Comedies are exaggerations of real life, so I don’t know how much the characters truly reflect Emirati relationships and culture. At home, the young adults wear Western clothing such as tee shirts and blue jeans. There seems to be a lot of kiss-ass behavior in the business office. The buildings are extremely shiny. I thought it interesting that some normal details were left out. For example, the brothers compete in business, but it is unclear what business they are both in. While Hemeid follows the fictional Tadamon, we never know what team his brother follows.
As far as soccer, there is no real football in the film. Sometimes a game is on TV in the background of an office, and 2 scenes are shot in stadium seating areas. A tiny bit of game footage from an unknown Al Ain match is included in the final scene. The credits thank Al Ain Club, Al Jazira Club, and Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.
I enjoyed the film for the exposure to a different culture/country through its humor. The theme of football fanaticism was actually the weakest part, maybe because the men don’t wear anything representing their team, except a color. Although the actors were very good and comical in a theatrical sense, by American standards, the humor is quite dated. It’s like watching Zero Mostel in a Mel Brooks movie: funny in 1968, but old shtick today.
So watch Red Card to be in on the ground floor of viewing a new industry. But otherwise, the truncated 61-minute version might not be worth your time. Maybe I could rate this film higher if the entire 98 minutes were available.
5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5
- Released: 2017-03-02 (UAE)
- Kart Ahmar , كرت أحمر
- In Arabic with English sub-titles
- 1 hour 1 min (originally 98 mins)
- I watched a 61 min version on Netflix
- Director: Nasser Al Tamimi (aka Nasser El Tamimy) and on Twitter and Instagram
- Stars: Badriya Ahmad (aka Badria Ahmed) , Bilal Abdullah
- Watch the Trailer in Arabic