The most expensive Egyptian film ever made, The Yacoubian Building is a sprawling, star-studded epic that spans all the social classes populating contemporary Cairo. In three fast-moving hours, it dramatizes topical issues like adultery, political corruption, Islamist terrorism, and the hitherto taboo subject of homosexuality. First-time director Marwan Hamed crafts a gripping drama out of Alaa Al Aswani’s novel, an Arabic-language bestseller already in its 12th printing. The famous Yacoubian Building was constructed in downtown Cairo in 1937 to house the city’s upper crust. Today the tenants of its spacious apartments are a bit down-in-the-dumps, while its rooftop laundry rooms have been converted into homes for the poor.
And from the Daily Star’s review:
According to Egypt’s most celebrated writer, Naguib Mahfouz, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”… After stumbling out of a bar onto the empty, shadow-filled streets of Downtown Cairo, [Adel Imam’s character] screams: “This is a time of deformity,” his tears mixing with the booze on his breath. “This country was better than Paris. They’ve ruined it.” That this film dares to ask what went wrong is, ultimately, its wisest achievement.
I have mixed feelings about statements like “They’ve ruined it.” Who are “they”? And is it wise, afterall, to compare an enormous country like Egypt to a metropolis like Paris? We all know Egypt was “better than” anything: it was the seat of civilization, once upon a time. To compare it to a relatively new city in the West gives away exactly what went wrong…imperialism followed by reverence for all things Western.
Anyway, I still can’t wait to see it.