Sunday, July 26, 2009

Islamic Psychotronic! Two Egyptian Movies!

I recently rented and watched two films made in Egypt, one from the 60s - THE VENGEANCE OF THE DESERT- and one from the early 70s - ADRIFT ON THE NILE. They could hardly be more different and offer interesting views on the world's largest Arabic language film industry. Here are some brief comments on the two along with any credible cast/crew info I could find.

Egypt, 1964
Directed by Henry Barakat (1914-1997)
Screenplay by Youssef Issa and Henry Barakat
Cinematography by Mahmoud Nasr
Music by Michel Youssef
Farid Shawqi
Mahmoud Azmy
Naima Akef
Tewfik Al-Dekn
Hassan Al-Baroudi
Mahmoud Moursi
Ahmed Louksar
Abdel Rehim
El Zakrani
Mahmoud Farac

VENGEANCE is a period action/adventure film that re-casts THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO to medieval Egypt. While boasting some terrific cinematography and set design, the movie fails to excite in any way. Action scenes are few and far between and rather static when they do occur. The pace is glacial, there's too much dialog and the acting is nothing to get worked up about. Worst of all, there was no sense, at least not from this English dubbed version, of it being an 'Egyptian' movie. It could easily have been produced in Italy or the US, or anywhere else for that matter. There's no idiosyncratic national identity to the film, as there would have been if this were a Turkish production, for example. Although I suspect that this was intentional in order to sell it abroad. Director Barakat is a well-regarded filmmaker in his home country, noted for his acclaimed 1959 melodrama THE NIGHTINGALE'S PRAYER and the 1965 social drama AL-HARAM (THE SIN), which was voted the second best Egyptian film of all time by the newspaper Al Ahram. I'm willing to wager that those are much better films than this one. Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

IMDB page
Something Weird Video catalog page

Egypt, 1971
Directed by Hussein Kamal(1932-2003)
Screenplay by Mamdouh Al-Leithy
Adel Adham
Mervat Amin
Magda Al-Khateeb
Emad Hamdi
Salah Nazmi
Ahmed Ramzy
Soheir Ramzy

ADRIFT, on the other hand, is a really great movie. Based on a novel by famed Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, this film is a sort of Arabic LA DOLCE VITA, a searing satirical look at the hashish-addled petty bourgeois lives of some of the upper-crust of Egyptian society. It's a political allegory for the turbulent years of the Nasser reign, but most of that is lost on me. Still, it's powerful stuff. The movie is brimming with great film-making verve - the handheld cameras, the elliptical, sometimes dreamy editing and the sharp black and white photography are all impressive. The acting is superb throughout with a standout performance from Ahmed Ramzy as a charming cad of a movie star, although his close resemblance to Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy is slightly distracting. There's also a wonderful color musical sequence meant as a send-up of Egyptian commercial film standards. It would appear that at least at one time, Egyptian movies were very much like Indian films, if this movie is to be believed. Although not very 'cult' or 'psychotronic' or whatever ADRIFT ON THE NILE is highly recommended for all interested in Egyptian films or just unique international cinema in general. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

IMDB page
Web bio of director Kamal

For more Arabic language film weirdness, check out these archived reivews of two early 90s Egyptian exploitation movies, now with updated credit info and poster images:


Ninja Dixon said...

Adrift on the Nile looks like a great movie and I will try to find it.

Right now I'm on the hunt for iranian movie, especially after seeing the great The Senator from the early eighties. Gritty political thriller with some action.

Jared said...

Where did you find THE SENATOR, Fred? I'd like to see some Iranian movies too. They had a very active film industry in the 60s and 70s, Including many mysteries, thrillers and fantasy films, which the "Islamic revolution" pretty much put an end to. Although the movie you've seen would seem to be an exception.

Ninja Dixon said...

I found The Senator in a store in stockholm, looked like an x-rental dvd, direct from Iran :) I have no idea if it's possible to download it, but it's well worth trackning down.

Now all my dvds are in boxes, but when I get them into shelfs, I can get a copy for you if you want to.

Jared said...

PM me on AV Maniacs or Cinehound and we can work out a trade. I'll send you my current list.

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These two movies are the most strange stuff I've ever seen in my whole life! thanks for share them