7.5/10
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The Yacoubian Building (2006)

Omaret yakobean (original title)
Meditations on corruption, fundamentalism, prostitution, homosexuality, and drugs in central Cairo.

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8 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Zaki El Dessouki
...
...
Christine
Essad Youniss ...
Dawlat El Dessouky (as Issad Younis)
Ahmed Bedir ...
Malaak (as Ahmed Bedeir)
...
Bothayna (as Hind Sabry)
...
Hatem Rachid
...
Kamal El Fouly
Ahmed Rateb ...
Fanous
Somaya El Khashab ...
Soad
...
Abd Raboh
Mohamed Emam ...
Taha El Shazly (as Mohamed Imam)
Youseff Daoud ...
Fekry Abdel Shaheed
Talaat Zakaria ...
Bar Owner
...
Narrator
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Storyline

Cairo: a 70-year-old building of once-luxury flats with tenements on the roof. Zika, an aging libertine, feuds with his sister. Pius Haj Azzam takes a second wife, in secret, to satisfy sexual drive within religious bounds. Bothayna, poor and beautiful, supports her family, wanting to do so with dignity intact. Her former fiancé, Taha, the janitor's son, humiliated by the police, turns to fundamentalism. Hatem, a gay editor, seduces and corrupts a young man from the sticks. Two brothers, Copts, one a tailor and one Zika's factotum, connive for property. Allah is on most everyone's lips, and corruption is in their hearts. European values, both refined and worldly, provide a subtext. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Genres:

Drama

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Details

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Release Date:

21 June 2006 (Egypt)  »

Also Known As:

The Yacoubian Building  »

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Budget:

EGP 18,000,000 (estimated)
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Official submission of Egypt for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category of the 79th Academy Awards in 2007. See more »

Goofs

When Hatem is drinking while remembering his youth near the end of the film, he finishes his drink. Seconds later, he finishes it again. See more »

Soundtracks

La Vie en Rose
Music by Louiguy
Lyrics by Édith Piaf
Performed by Youssra
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User Reviews

 
A kitsch but lively modern Cairo social panorama
6 May 2007 | by (Berkeley, California) – See all my reviews

"They" say it's overly faithful to the bestselling novel by Alaa Al Aswany which I have not read. . For Egypt, Yacoubian Building is the most expensive film ever (quotes vary). Director Hamid was 28 when he made it and is the son of the screenwriter who did the adaptation. The film is an ambitious and promising if under-edited piece. Perhaps it ought to have been in parts like Marco Tullio Giordana's The Best of Youth/La meglio gioventù, to which it has been compared. But instead it's a somewhat sprawling 172 minutes and feels at times like a smashed-together telenovela.

Hollywood Reporter says the film may "offer a revealing window into the secular world of a modern Islamic country -- its indulgence in alcohol, sexual promiscuity, political corruption and personal betrayals. From such 'deformities, the movie argues, Islamic fundamentalism gains its most passionate adherents." But we can do better than this crude analysis. Moroccan-born ,western educated novelist Laila Lalani points out the book (and consequently the movie) is full of prejudices against gays, resembles the old "large-scale melodramas" produced by Egypt's "huge film industry," with their "young idealists, desirable ingénues, old predators, and so on," and is crudely moralistic -- with almost every character forced to make choices that "ultimately result in either their downfall or redemption." It's also full of heavy-handed emotional manipulation, cliff-hangers, and so on. Alaa Al Aswany is no Naguib Mahfouz. Aside from the prejudice against gays, we're told that mixed marriages produce confused children, that all women love sex enormously, and so on. It's important to realize that however engaging the film is and notable the actors are in the Egyptian film world, it's made out of dross, not gold.

The titular Armenian-owned, Twenties Yacoubian Building in the once elegant, restricted central zone of the city "became home to Cairo's rich and powerful when it opened," Lalani writes. After the revolution, however, "storage sheds on the rooftop were rented out to poor families--a sort of sky-high slum." This allows for a story about the building's residents that spans society. The action is set in the 1990's. And the basic panorama goes something like this:

In the foreground is Zaki Bey El Dessouki, or "Zaki Pasha" (Adel Imam), a superannuated playboy kicked out of the family apartment by his mean, half-crazy sister. He may seem seedy, but he's the house aristocrat. Fanous (Ahmed Rateb) is his faithful manservant. Dawlat (Essad Younis) is his nutty, vindictive sister, who has always resented his fun loving ways and not is out to get him. Hatem Rasheed (Khaled El Sawy) is a gay editor who takes a good-looking soldier Abd Raboh (Bassem Samra) .from the country as his lover. Rasheed isn't mincing, but he reflects an Egyptian discomfort with gayness; still, he's seen three-dimensionally. He likes dark Nubian men because they remind him an early experience with a family servant. The film's treatment of the sexual aspect of Hatem's relationship to the soldier feels like something made in the 1950's. In general sex is a burden for the people in this movie, either a risky temptation or an ordeal. It gets nasty, and then the camera shrinks away.

Haj Assam (Nour El Sheriff) is a self-made millionaire (through a chain of stores selling modestly-priced women's clothing) with political ambitious. wants to get into the People's Assembly (Majlis al Sha'ab) for access to power. He takes a penniless young widow with a young son, Soad (Somaya el Khashab), as a second wife and forces her to have an abortion. As Lalani puts it, Assam "is the nouveau riche to Zaki' Bey's aristocrat." The brothers Abaskharon and Malaak (Ahmed Bedire) are Coptic Christians who save every penny they make, by legal and illegal means, in order to finally afford a room on the roof.

On the roof are Taha (Mohamed Imam)and Buthayna (Hind Sabry). Taha is the son of a bawab. A bawab is a doorkeeper, more like a concierge or a super in New York rather than "janitor" as it's translated. With such a lowly father, Taha is turned down by the police academy as not socially adequate to become an officer, and adopts a "plan B," to major in political science, which leads him to sympathy with the university religions fanatics and he eventually becomes an Islamic fundamentalist. His girlfriend Buthayna leaves him when he becomes religious and eventually she goes to work for Zaki, who's reformed and treats her well. She's previously been sexually harassed in every job she's had -- as we're shown in a lurid scene. Perhaps she feels too defiled to be worthy of one so innocent and decent as Taha, and she seems hardened A reader has pointed out that she is much poorer in the book than here. Laila Lalani says, "Egypt's young men are easy preys to religious extremism while the country's young women are victims of sexual exploitation." Taha is imprisoned and given Abu Ghraib treatment that de-islamicizes him. To get revenge, he trains as a terrorist -- a chain of events that looks frighteningly up-to-date.

The film has little details any Cairo downtown resident will know -- like Zaki yelling angrily because another resident has left the door of the antique elevator open on their floor so no one else can use it. Though this isn't Naguib Mahfouz, like him it attempts to draw a richly representative picture of a whole society. It's a rather sad picture with its disapproval of the present and nostalgia for the past.. And again, despite the three or six million dollars spent, some exterior sound is awful, the wrong kind of lens is used to pan up and down the city buildings, and some of the Islamicists' beards look pasted on. But with all that's going on, it holds your attention.

Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007. Earlier in the year one of the Film Comments Selects series at Lincoln Center, New York.


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