Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sayed Marzouk revisited

Hani Mustafa remembers the two recently deceased actors, Nour Al-Sherif and Ali Hassanein

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A few days ago the death of Nour Al-Sherif at 69 was closely followed by that of Ali Hassanein at 76. They died within a day of each other, and thus connected they brought back memories of their links on screen, notably in Dawoud Abdel-Sayed’s Looking for Sayed Marzouk, 15 years ago.

At the time Al-Sherif was already quite familiar to film viewers. He had traversed the route to stardom, starting with the small screen at the beginning of the 1970s and starring in numerous films and plays in addition. Hassanein on the other hand had only been cast in small parts in such works as Niazi Mustafa’s film Al-Tut wal Nabbout (Berries and Bludgeons, 1986) and Yahya Al-Alami’s series Raafat Al-Haggan (1990). In Abdel-Sayed’s second film, by contrast, Hassanein appeared in a leading role opposite an established star.

The film itself was an interesting departure from the realism characterising Abdel-Sayed and his group of upcoming filmmakers – Mohamed Khan, Atef Al-Tayeb and Khairi Bishara – and by which his first film Al-Saalik (The Bohemians, starring Al-Sherif and Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, 1985) had abided.

The film opens with a man waking up to realise his alarm clock had not gone off as usual, and dressing quickly for fear of being late to work. With admirable economy of means, Youssef Kamal (Al-Sherif) is presented as a middle-class wage slave who lives alone, without friends or relations, his life restricted to the two poles of work and home. It eventually transpires that this is a Friday. Youssef has no work but, since he has already gone out, he decides not to return home. It is this change in routine that leads the man into temptation, delivering him not of the evil one.

Al-Sherif have a delightful performance of this simple, ingenuous character: a man leaving his cocoon and feeling his way through life with the first scene, gaining experiences as they happen to him for the first time now that he has put aside his fear and followed his desire to be liberated, to plunge into live and know love.

At the other end of the spectrum, with his distinctive Lion King look, Hassanein managed to portray the exotic character of a rich businessman whose financial influence allows him to control all manner of things including the security forces. He can enslave everything to his ego, and his world is a personal arrangement of pleasures and music. If Youssef is safe from the suffering that comes of living because of his middle-class isolation, Sayed Marzouk too is completely isolated from life by his hereditary wealth (which even nationalisation failed to dispel): in the film he represents an amalgam of the pre-1952 aristocracy and the post-Sadat nouveau riche.

The character of Sayed Marzouk (the literal meaning of the name is “rich master”), the stories he tells which attract and enchant Youssef, send the latter on a wild goose chase looking for him. At the start Sayed Marzouk tells Youssef about his affair with Abla or Nagwa or Mona (Athar Al-Hakim), whom he saw at a cafe before meeting Sayed – and fell in love with on sight. As if Sayed has identified his weak point, he makes up stories about her; and though he later tells him it was all fiction, Youssef remains fascinated with these stories and the world of the rich master.

In the first few scenes that bring them together, Sayed explains his philosophy of the city, dividing the population into four kinds: the first are those who own and control everything (whoever wants to find the city’s treasures must seek its owners’ permission, he says); the second are the fugitives who are chased by the police, the better to protect the owners; the third, like Youssef, are those who lead trouble-less lives because and are scared of everything; and fourth are the rebels, the most dangerous kind.
Al-Sherif brilliantly portrays the development of this confused character as it makes the journey across these four sectors of society, which supply the

script with an essential grid. When Youssef Kamal stops being of the third kind, he initially attaches himself to Sayed, becoming of the first kind.

But when he leaves Sayed’s expensive car he is arrested and interrogated by investigations Lieutenant Colonel Omar (Shawki Shamekh), who happens to be a friend of Sayed’s. Having decided that Youssef is innocent, however, the officer ignores him completely, neglecting to undo the chain that ties him to a chair. A comic sequence ensues, in which Youssef must accompany Omar on a mission involving an exchange of fire while still tied to the chair, sustaining a superficial wound in the process. Not until the end does Omar explain that Youssef could have undone the chain himself – very easily.

Youssef does not become a fugitive until Sayed runs over one of his own entertainers, a Charlie Chaplain impersonator, killing him but telling the police that it was Youssef who was driving. For the rest of the film Youssef is on the run, trying to locate Sayed Marzouk to kill him but failing at the last moment before the latter leaves the country. The film ends with police boots and hounds coming for Youssef.

Looking for Sayed Marzouk remains but a tiny part of the two actors’ wide-ranging and lasting achievement, but it is a beautiful and effective way of remembering them together.

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