Omaret Yakobean (The Yacoubian Building) – *

Posted: July 10, 2015 in 2006, Drama, Egypt, X

During a visit to Egypt several years ago, a tour guide suggested to watch The Yacoubian Building, a controversial movie based on a bestselling novel about the lives of several inhabitants of a famous art deco building in Cairo. It didn’t really get an international theatrical release, but you can buy the movie on dvd (if you look hard).

It’s clear why this movie was controversial and successful in its native Egypt. It deals about all kinds of tabu matters, from common issues like corruption, poverty and prostitution to lesser discussed topics like abortion, jihadism and homosexuality. Some praise the movie (and initially the book) for raising awareness of these aspects of life. Others find the way they are dealt with old-fashioned and damaging.

Non-Egyptians will need some time to adjust their mindset to this different kind of culture and cinema. The directing is not all that bad really and it’s great PR for Cairo. But the whole movie feels like it could have been made in the forties or so. It only has brighter colors. Be warned: Characters in Egyptian movies like these don’t talk, they SHOUT. Actors in Egyptian movies don’t really care about looking ravishingly good (apart from Hend Sabry, but she’s Tunisian). Nor do they care about acting natural. Once you’ve accepted the differences, you can persevere until the end.

The stories themselves aren’t all that interesting really. They are all so predictable and never merge, which is actually the point of telling the tale of the inhabitants of one particular building. But it’s fascinating to see life as it happens in Egypt. It’s a 2,5 hour soap and that’s exactly what the producers have made after the theatrical success: a tv series.

The main reason to watch the movie is to see how a unique moment in Egyptian movie history (showing a homosexual character) becomes totally counterproductive. It’s like the gay characters of the Hollywood movies of the fifties. They are all alcoholics and die in the end, gruesomely. Because, hey maybe that’s what they deserve. And that’s exactly what happens here. The gay characters is the editor in chief of a newspaper who throws money at uneducated men, invites them for dinner and a LOT of alcohol to his apartment, then throws himself passively on the bed waiting for the straight acting man to have a go at it.

Yes, it’s controversial and daring, but it’s also so sad and bad that it’s almost funny.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425321

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