4 user 3 critic

The Curlew's Cry (1959)

Doa al karawan (original title)
This compelling tale of love and betrayal, set in the upper Egyptian countryside, follows the story of Amna as she plots her revenge on the engineer who destroyed her family's honor.


Henry Barakat
1 nomination. See more awards »




Credited cast:
Faten Hamamah ... Amna (as Fetan Hamamah)
Ahmad Mazhar ... (as Ahmed Mazhar)
Aminah Rizq Aminah Rizq
Zahrat El-Ula Zahrat El-Ula ... Henady (as Zahrat El-Ola)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ragaa Al-Gidawy Ragaa Al-Gidawy ... Ghadeega (as Raga El Geddaoui)
Abdelalim Khattab Abdelalim Khattab ... (as Abdel Alim Khattab)
Mimi Shakib Mimi Shakib ... Zanooba (as Mimi Chakib)


This compelling tale of love and betrayal, set in the upper Egyptian countryside, follows the story of Amna as she plots her revenge on the engineer who destroyed her family's honor. Written by Ahmed Saber

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

revenge | servant | based on novel | See All (3) »


Drama | Romance


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This movie has been Ranked among the top 100 movies in the history of Egyptian cinema. See more »

User Reviews

Memorable Egyptian masterpiece, one of the best literary adaptations ever made
5 September 2008 | by ametaphysicalsharkSee all my reviews

Although he is not as frequently discussed as Youssef Chahine, Salah Abou-Seif, or even contemporary directors like Yousy Nasrallah, Henry Barakat was one of the most successful and popular studio directors in the classic era of Egyptian cinema, of which few films are currently available to Western audiences on home video, one of them being the recent DVD release of this classic, massively acclaimed masterwork. Henry Barakat cared little about careful compositions and stylization, focusing heavily on fast and economical storytelling with fleeting moments of poetic imagery in most of his dramatic films, while his comic efforts showed an immense talent for staging sight gags and getting good comic performances out of classically trained dramatic actors.

There is little comedy in "Doa al karawan", also known as "The Nightingale's Prayer", and it comes almost solely in the first half hour or so of the film, along with the film's only moments of comfort and joy. This is among the most depressing films ever made, a classical tragic melodrama, certainly, but one far more poetic, intelligent, and understanding of human emotions and relationships than most. That is not all that surprising either, as the film is closely based on the prose masterpiece by famed literary master Taha Hussein. The film touches on all the bases when it comes to tragedy: lust, revenge, murder, repression, love, betrayal, and death, but does so through a story that rarely feels contrived and which is always effective and intelligent, never dumbed down for the masses in spite of this being a popular and relatively mainstream film, albeit one that was heavily censored at the time (an attempted rape scene was cut, I believe, but is restored on home video).

Starring Egyptian superstar and terrific actress Faten Hamama (Omar Sharif's wife for many years), the film follows the story of Hamama's character Amna as she, her mother, and her sister are forced to leave their village to preserve the family's honor by Amna's viciously patriarchal and hypocritical uncle following the murder of her father after he was caught committing adultery. Amna and her sister move to the city, naive village girls as they are, shocked and appalled at the simple sight of a train and awed by things like pianos and gramophones, and doubtlessly scandalized by the heavy drinking and fornication that was fairly common in Egyptian city life at the time, and find jobs working as maids. Soon Amna's sister is seduced by her employer, which leads to her uncle finding out and killing her, leading Amna to plot revenge against her sister's previous employer, an alcoholic businessman who soon falls in love with Amna.

The film twists and turns, but never feels contrived, and is always literate and well-written, although the English subtitles unfortunately cannot translate certain poetic passages well, which come off as decidedly corny or lose their power once translated. The film is very much in the spirit of Taha Hussein's writings, and is probably among my favorite literary adaptations overall in terms of how good the film is and also how well it brings the novel to the screen. The ending is devastating, the characters are well-developed, the tragedy feels real, the melodramatic air of the film fits well, the story is immensely well-told on a visual level, the orchestral score is excellent (but, unfortunately, very poorly-recorded), and every performance is excellent. In addition there is some excellent cinematography, although the transfer on the DVD is unfortunately not very good.

Audiences which strongly dislike classic American or British melodramas may not take to Henry Barakat's "The Nightingale's Prayer", but I think it is one of the very best of its sort (possibly the best, period) and is stylistically in tune with the nature of the tale as an adaptation of something akin to an Arabic prose version of a Shakespearian tragedy. With the film now available on DVD in North America, I sincerely hope it will be seen by more people outside Egypt, where it is widely considered a classic. Regardless of the criticism it may face from some, "The Nightingale's Prayer" is a film I have seen many times since my childhood, and one which has never lessened in power or resonance, and is still very much relevant to the world today.


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Release Date:

8 October 1959 (Egypt) See more »

Also Known As:

The Nightingale's Prayer See more »

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