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Movie Critic Article: The Best Egyptian Movie

When asked in an online interview whether he thought Egypt would become “more free and liberal in the near future,” Chahine's reply was categorical and pessimistic: “No, neither in the near nor in the faraway future.”

The Best Egyptian Movie

A Film for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
(As long as there are tyrants and rebels!)

Article By: Badr Eddin Hassan Ali

Seen and liked by thousands the world over, "The Land" 1969 by the late Egyptian master filmmaker Youssef Chahine, is considered one of the best Egyptian movies ever made. On a 1996 list of the best hundred Egyptian films prepared by cinema critics, "The Land" ranked number two; number one being the 1939 movie "Al-Aziema".

"The Land"  tells the story of the struggle of the peasants against the landmasters in the thirties of last century in Egypt. It explores the sufferings of the peasants and their values and aspirations for a better life. It shows through an excellent performance from the late actor Mahmoud Meligi (as Abu-Sweilem) that the land, for the peasant, is equal to life and is as worthy of sacrifice as honor.
The scenes delivered byMeligi and complemented by a fine-tuned performance from Izzat ElAlaili shed light on some new ideas that were unthought of yet by the ordinary citizen of that part of the world at that time. These scenes were engraved in our memories before they became part of the history of Egyptian cinema.
"The Land" does not only project politics during the thirties in Egypt, but it also brilliantly enlightens us, through the original literary work by the novelist Abdul Rahman Al-Sharqawi and the realisation by master filmmaker Youssef Chahine, about the colonial and the feudal systems and their interrelations. The scriptwriter, Hassan Fouad, had been so truly inspired by Sharkawi's novel that he rendered such a lively script with such an absorbing diaglogue that made it fit for all ages. The film deserves its position as a landmark in the glorious history of the Egyptian cinema.

The Plot Of The Movie

The film is set in an Egyptian village in 1933. The villagers are surprised by
a governmental decision to reduce their land share of the cycles of irrigation from ten to five times per month. The village chief (oumda) explains to the peasants that they will share the water equally with the feudal landlord Mahmoud. The villagers meet to consult and agree to write a petition to the government through Muhammad Effendi and with help from the landlord who has connections with important people of authority. Exploitation of the petition and the signatures collected results not only in the irrigation cycles not increased but also that some of the peasants lose their land to allow for a paved road leading to the landlord's palace!
Thus the coalition between the feudal system and the government is uncovered!
And thus erupts the anger of the peasants, led by Abu Sweilem in defense of their land. But their alliance could not withstand that of the feudal system with the government. They try to block the watercourse and the government sends its (Haggana) forces to control the village and enforces a curfew. Then a split occurs between the peasants; a point well-focused on by both the novelist and the filmmaker as splitting is a dangerous but recurrent theme. Land is expropriated by force. Abu Sweilem who defies and resists the
security force, is dragged along the ground by soldiers on horseback, his hands clinging to the roots.
The story reaches a memorable climax at this point. Sheikh Hassouna (portrayed byYahya Chahine ), at one time a proud patriot, abandons all his glories at this crucial moment to secure his own interests. And so does the intellectual and the merchant. Everyone seeks their private, individual interests.

Memorable Scenes

I've seen this film five times and each time I have been striken by the scene in which a cow falls into the pit of a sakiya (waterwheel)! Also when the villagers descend to take out the cow. How they joined hand in hand; in unity, after a fight on the shared water supply. When they discover that their efforts should be directed against the landlords and the government. Another memorable scene is when Abu Sweilem and Sheikh Hassouna meet with the village youth and tell them about their struggle when they were young and that they were not scared in similar situations and the youth, in excitement, start throwing things to block the watercourse. 
Then, the final wonderful scene! Abu Sweilem falls and gets dragged on the ground with his fingers clutching and clinging to the cotton tree branches, his blood mixing with the earth. This scene deserves to be acknowledged as the most beautiful of all Arab movie scenes.
Personally, I consider"The Land"  as the best Egyptian movie on the subject of peasant life or life in the countryside. It's a movie for yesterday and today and for tomorrow. As long as there are tyrants and there are rebels. It is of eternal value. "The Land", along with its historical worth, has this artistic and technical essence. As well, it is appealing to the public because of its clear vision. It is a film in defense of noble human principles.
The Land (Al-ard, Le Terre, la Terra) 1969. Color. Mono. English subtitles.
Cast: Mahmoud ElMeligi. Yahya Chahine. Izzat ElAlaili. Najwa Ibrahim.
Script: Hassan Fouad (from the novel by ElSharkawi)
Music by: Ali Ismael
Directed by: Youssef Chahine (1926-2008)
Drama. Egypt.

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Browse Chahine's filmography on The New York Times


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