Thursday, November 08, 2012


In the village of Luxor, Chief Gad, who is growing old and has gone blind, thinks it's time to modernize, so he talks the village elders into contributing money to a fund to buy a barge to replace their boat.  He entrusts his son Muhasab, on the edge of manhood, with the money, and sends him off with a crew led by Gad's right-hand man Mujahad to Cairo to sell the boat and return with the barge.  Muhasab is sad to leave his girlfriend Ward, but excited to be sent out in the world on an important errand.  Indeed, things get exciting quickly when, on their first night out, they stop and visit a rowdy carnival at which an exotic belly dancer named Nargis pays a lot of attention to Muhasab.  Unbeknownst to the men, Nargis is in cahoots with a wicked man from Luxor to steal their money.  Muhasab is robbed of his purse, but Mujahad goes back to the carnival and robs the robbers, so Nargis is sent to finagle her way onto the boat and eventually regain the money. She gets Muhasab to fall for her, but Mujahad has taken custody of the money, so eventually she goes after him as well. Even though Mujahad is more worldly and experienced and knows what she’s up to, he also falls for her charms, and the love triangle leads to near-tragedy.

I've never been exposed to Egyptian cinema before, and I suspect the only reason this film has surfaced on DVD is the presence of the young Omar Sharif as Muhasab. Stunningly handsome and charismatic, Sharif (pictured) is reason enough to watch this film, even though his character is a dunce, both in terms of common sense and morality; at practically every step, he does the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. I have to say that as a movie buff, I was pleased by the unpredictable turns of the traditional quest story; if this were a more conventional coming-of-age plot, we would see him learn from his mistakes, but he doesn’t really seem to, and even the wiser Mujahad gets unhinged by lust for Nargis. In fact, some reviewers liken this to film noir; I wouldn't go that far, but Nargis is certainly a femme fatale, and the scenes at the carnival wouldn't be out of place in an American noir of the 40s. Roshdi Abaza as good and maybe better than Sharif as Mujahad; Hind Rostom, called the Arab Marilyn Monore, is fine as Nargis. There's even a comic-relief sidekick character, a semi-mute who is sad to leave his little white donkey behind to go on the trip—his reunion with the donkey is actually the fade-out shot. At two hours, the film feels awfully long, especially in the last half-hour, but if you're up for something a little different, it makes for interesting viewing.  [DVD]

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