Monday, March 8, 2010

The Yacoubian Building

Hmmm...this was a tough one. Admittedly, I am ignorant of classic Egyptian film and Egyptian cinema in general. But The Yacoubian Building (Omaret yakobean) (Marwan Hamed, 2006), touted far and wide as the biggest-budget Egyptian film to date and a great cinematic accomplishment, was hard to take. I'd been expecting something pretty great, since this was the talk of the International Film Festival Rotterdam during my first year there, and I was really disappointed to have missed it then. It was so soap opera-like that I wasn't sure I could finish it. Upon finally viewing it, the main thing I took away from it was that the story entailed a lot of gross sexual coercion in the name of social advancement. That and the realization that I don't know enough about Egyptian history...or ANYTHING about Egyptian history for that matter.

When Taha (Mohamed Imam) became involved with a more radical sect of Islam, it was such a relief to focus on something substantial, something beyond the shame of characters stuck in poverty and feeling yuck-o about sexual favors demanded according to class and status. I guess there was also a fair share of political corruption. And it was thick with the message that violence breeds violence. But the homosexuality stuff was a bit much, not to be celebrated as I'd been lead to believe. The film has caused great controversy in Egypt for  its depiction of homosexuality. But when the Bey Hatim Rasheed (Khaled El Sawy) indulges in a flashback montage in which he is talking to [hideously rendered] portraits of his parents, and his homosexuality is explained by an assertion that his black African caretaker molested him as a child, I had to groan.

The grossest part was probably the clown-like face and particularly the smile of the aged Pasha (Adel Imam) who somehow easily won the heart of the hot young thing of the film, a woman who'd been vehemently discerning till that point.

I haven't read the book, but it MUST be better than the movie...

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