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MCA: A Knock On a Hot Steel Tank!

"How a movie ends must be a condensation of the director's attitude towards its events."
Tawfik Saleh.

Explaining realism, the late Egyptian filmmaker Tawfik Saleh said: "It is the picking up of details and personalities from real life and linking them with a certain 'concern' and presenting this in form and filmic presentation that will raise the awareness of the recipient of that concern."

With only six or seven feature films, Saleh was able to rank high in the list of pioneers of realism in Egyptian cinema, along with Youssif Chahine, Salah Abuseif, etc.
But Saleh was not a very happy filmmaker, not because of his own belief that he was hated 'in and out and for no obvious reason', but because of his trials and tribulations with authorities and bureaucracies of the Arab world in the late sixties and early seventies when the best production finances had to come from the 'public sector'-read the government! When he wrote the screenplay for a famous novel by fellow Egyptian Tawfik Elhakim Dairies of a Country Magistrate, it was rejected and labelled 'against the police'!After a lengthy negotiation, he was told he could fix things by making a short movie highlighting the police services to be shown right before his

feature movie! The feature movie Dairies of a Country Magistrate was banned from viewing until it had been seen by the head of state! But still, Saleh was intimidated by employees in the 'public sector' to the point of leaving Egypt, his country.
The next story by Tawfik Saleh is even more appalling.
When he read the novella Men in The Sun by Palestinian acclaimed writer Ghassan Kanafani, Saleh decided to make it into a movie. Now that Nasser was dead, the 'men in the public sector' turned down his proposal by asking him a very difficult question: This is a Palestinian story, right? What have we got to do with it? I am pretty sure the man was stunned by that question because everybody knew that Egypt was materially supporting the Palestinians!
Here is Tawfik Saleh telling the story of The Dupes the movie he made out of Kanafani's  Men in The Sun.
"I traveled late in the sixties to Syria because I did not find a job in Egypt. There I got to know Saad Allah Wannous (prominent Syrian playwright) who took me to his father's estate where we stayed several days. We wrote the idea of ​​the film. The idea had to be submitted to a committee to read and approve it! After a long wait, a report came out, but not on what we wrote and submitted. It was to question what an Egyptian director was doing in Syria! The next day Wannous was fired and I was given 48 hours to depart from Syria."

Saadalla Wannous

"They also demanded that I pay back whatever money I had received on signing the contract for my initial screenplay which I did not have because I paid the rent for an apartment for my accompanying family. At this point they suggested that I present a different script. I presented about 12 Syrian stories. Finally they brought someone who had nothing to do with writing a movie script but I rejected his script. They then told me to rewrite a new script! The film was done in such discouraging circumstances and yet it was banned on the grounds that it did not rise to Syrian technical standards as specified by their 'public sector' experts! But, I saw the impact of the film on the audience at the show. It was amazing. I rejoiced .When you see an elderly man cry out of response to your film, you praise God for what you have achieved. I thought - because of this weeping man- that the film will soon be released to the public, but it was not. They even banned it!"
The above were excerpts from Saleh's last interview. He did not live to read it, just like the author of the novella he based his work on who was blown up before he could elaborate on the changes made to his story by Saleh. Tawfik Saleh died in 2013.

Films by Tawfik Saleh (1926-2013)

  • The Dupes 1972. Briefly reviewed below.
  • Fools' Alley Darb el mahâbîl written with Naguib Mahfouz 1955
  • The Struggle of Heroes 1962
  • The Rebels Elmoutamarridoun 1966
  • El Sayed el Boulti 1967
  • Diary of a Country Prosecutor Yammiat Naeb fi Elariaf.
Saleh and Mahfouz
The Dupes 1972 (also The Duped, The Deceived, Almakhdu'uon translit.)

This movie was intentionally shot in black and white as one of the director's visual devices to give the feel of documenting a treacherous reality. In some parts there is a merger of dramatic and documentary footings.
The film is rightly dubbed the 'forgotten masterpiece of Arab cinema'. Over forty years since its making and untl now there is no wide-spread public viewing of it. When it came out in Syria in 1972, it was shown for a few days in exclusive circles. It was never shown publicly in any Arab country, except in Tunisia!

The Dupes is unique in that it was made by an Egyptian from a novella by a Palestinian writer and was filmed in Iraq and financed by Syria, (sounds like a pan-Arabist thing but it also hints at the homelessness of refugees.) Director Saleh who wrote the screenplay said the novella was written in a cinematic way in regard to character portraits, multiple narrative routes and flashbacks. Each of the four characters appear to have been the author's favorite. Saleh saw this as a reference to the mutual fate of the Palestinians in the aftermath of the declaration of the new state of Israel.
The cinematic treatment of Saleh was almost completely faithful to the literary text except for an important change he made in the ending. His dramatic condensation yielded a different end than the one in the book.
So, I can only can give you a tiny summary of the film plot because of the huge spoiler ahead!

Abu Elkhaizaran
The film recalls the stories of four Palestinian refugees from different generations, drawn together in the suffocating heat of a steel tanker as they try to make their way across the desert to Kuwait in search of a better future. They pay an impotent driver to smuggle them from Iraq to Kuwait. This smuggling takes place in an old water tank truck and in the heat of August when temperature reaches 52ْ C. The metaphor of the impotent driver/leader who lost his manhood in battling the Israelis, is quite obvious. The reality of the Arab countries after 1948 was exemplified by this ugly and hot truck and the different individual voices that take part in sharing with us their basic longing for a simple life gradually call for an honest cinematic expression.

The truck in the movie looked more evil than this one!

Earnings, Awards and Prizes 

Saleh, Mona Zaki and Izat El Alaili

  • One of the hundred best political movies worldwide.
  • One of the hundred best Arab movies.
  • Winner, Carthage Film Festival, First Prize (Tanit d'Or) 1972.
  • Winner, Strasbourg Film Festival on Human Rights 1973.
  • Winner, International Catholic Center in Belgium, First Prize 1973.
Ghassan Kanafani

Born in Akka (northern Palestine) in 1936, Ghassan Kanafani was a prominent spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and founding editor of its weekly magazine Al-Hadaf. His novels and short stories have been published in sixteen languages. He was killed in Beirut in 1972 in the explosion of his booby-trapped car. Kanafani as a literary figure was a social realist who belonged to what was known as the 'committed' literary trend. Tawfik Saleh, the filmmaker, was also a socialist.

The Full Movie and References

Read 'Men in The Sun' in Arabic and English
More on The Novella
More on the movie
More on Tawfik Saleh
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  1. what the Arabs live is simply the agony of tyranny and isolation, the ruling class in the Arab countries is supported and protected and beautified by Western systems, even amnesty international reports get censored, here the suffering of intelectuals becomes intensified and endless


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