|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
11 - 17 January 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
After a one-month period of quiet, with the coming of the Eid and the release of six new films, the Egyptian film industry has come back to life. Had director Mohamed Youssef's Batal Min Al-Ganoub.... Ya Aziz Eini (A Hero from the South... Apple of My Eye) been released at Eid time as had been the plan (work on the film completed, the final product was shown in a private screening during Ramadan), that would have made a whopping seven new releases. But, as fate would have it, the release of A Hero from the South was postponed.
Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe: the ghosts of another cinematic age continue to haunt Egyptian cinema
Besides postponement, the film suffered a name change. Initially it was simply Ya Aziz Eini (Apple of My Eye), the name given by the author on whose novel the film is based and blessed by Naglaa Fathi, who stars in the film. The director, however, felt that Batal Min Al-Ganoub would be a more appropriate title, and certainly more conducive to commercial and popular success when the film is screened in Lebanon on the occasion of Liberation Day (25 May). After all, the film revolves around an Egyptian child who, separated from his parents in pre-civil war Lebanon, eventually joins the ranks of armed strugglers in the south, becoming one of the heroes fighting against the occupation. In the end, and in a typically unimaginative compromise, both titles were used.
The postponement of Batal Min Al-Ganoub's release followed the last minute discovery that the author had been wrongly named in the credits. Given that the film was expensively printed in California this is likely to be a costly mistake.
But back to the films that were actually released. One feature shared by these films is the fact that, on the whole, they are not star-based. With the exception of Ilham Shahine and Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz in Souq Al-Mut'a (Pleasure Market) and Youssra, Ahmed Ramzi and Mustafa Fahmi in Al-Warda Al-Hamra (The Red Rose), the names of stars were prominently absent from the billboards of Eid films. A second point to note is that two of these six are directed by women: Inas El-Degheidi and Sandra Nashaat.
The third and perhaps the most telling point, at least as far as what is happening to the Egyptian film industry at large, is the derivation of three of the six films (either directly or indirectly) from Hollywood productions. Sandra's Leih Khalitni Ahibak (Why'd You Make Me Love You) is heavily influenced by the three-year-old My Best Friend's Wedding which starred Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz. Firqat Banat Wa Bas (Just an All Girls Band) is a shot-by-shot imitation of Some Like it Hot (1959) in which Marilyn Monroe played the unforgettable Sugar Kane.
The same derivative quality is true of Al-Warda Al-Hamra, directed by Inas El-Degheidi, who, since the release of her debut film Afwan Ayouha Al-Qanoun in the mid-1980s, has directed no fewer than 10 films. Nor is Al-Warda Al-Hamra scenarist Abdel-Hayy Adib a new hand at scriptwriting: his career goes as far back as 1958 and the script for Youssef Chahine's Bab Al-Hadid.
As in Gilda (the film which made Rita Hayworth a star), Al-Warda Al-Hamra sees Youssra playing a prostitute, dancing and singing on the dream seashore of Al-Gouna where life, lived by the rich and their hangers-on, is sweet.
El-Degheidi's tribute to Gilda is most clear in the black dress Youssra wears -- almost a replica of that worn by Hayworth in the scene where, seducing Glenn Ford, she sings "Put the Blame on Mom, Boy." El-Degheidi's Glenn Ford and George Macready equivalents are Mustafa Fahmi and Ahmed Ramzi. Watching the latter on the screen after a long absence, I was reminded of the ailing Charles De Gaulle's comparison of old age with a shipwreck. It was only towards the end of the film that I realised that this shipwreck was the film's one saving grace.
One cannot totally blame El-Degheidi for being influenced by Gilda, a classic engrained in the hearts and minds of all cinema lovers. Yet one would expect that our film industry would have matured a bit and shaken off its dependency on Hollywood. Certainly, as the audience has matured, it is less eager to watch derivative Egyptian movies. The box office failure of Al-Warda Al-Hamra is the proof of the pudding. And there is, certainly, more than a little irony in such heavy borrowing from Hollywood films continuing at a time when there have been regular calls to boycott American films under the pretext of protecting the Egyptian cinema industry.
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Letter from the Editor
|WEEKLY ONLINE: www.ahram.org.eg/weekly
Updated every Saturday at 11.00 GMT, 2pm local time