The Yacoubian Building
With the possible exception of Iran, new cinema from the Arab world gets a fairly raw deal in the UK, so it’s a rare pleasure indeed to immerse oneself in this accessible but sprawling multiple story drama from Egypt based on Alaa Al-Aswanys’ best-selling novel.
The Yacoubian Building was once the pride of Cairo, but the fortunes of those who have lived there have been determined by a downturn in the country’s fortunes brought about by the 1952 coup that overthrew King Farouk that resulted in the installation of President Nasser. All life is represented there, from the elderly wealthy playboy Zaki (Adel Emam), who bemoans the vulgarity of the new Egypt, to eager wannabe policeman Taha (Mohamed Imam), whose brush with the country’s still rabid class divide leads him into the arms of an Islamist militant organisation.
From Aswanys’ roman à clef, screenwriter Wahid Hamid and director Marwan Hamed build a scathing satire of Egyptian life today (although the original book was set around the time of the first Gulf War) – a place of ugly dichotomies and hidden truths. Even at this exorbitant length, The Yacoubian Building is marvellously entertaining, plus it looks great (it should do – it’s the highest budgeted film in the country’s history). One would like to think that two of Egypt’s greatest filmmakers – Atef Al Tayeb and Salah Abu Seif, both of who died in the 1990s, would have been glad to see an Egyptian film of this scope play on such an international stage.
GFT, Glasgow from Fri 21–Sun 23 Sep.