With no long introduction, let me take you on a journey into our local cinema industry. The following is a list of only some of the movies I find to be influential in the history of Egyptian cinema. If you haven’t seen one or any of the following, you’re definitely missing out.
1. El Keef (1985)
No, it’s not El-Keif as IMDB says, it’s El Keef. This is probably one of the most hilarious movies in Egypt’s film history. Directed by Ali Abdel Khalek, the film is the story of two brothers; one grows up to be a successful chemistry scholar (played by Yahia Al Fakharany) and the other to be a successful hash dealer and scam expert (brilliantly played by Mahmoud Abdel Aziz). Yahia’s countless efforts to straighten out his younger brother result in him making a hash-like substance, which his younger brother uses for dealing instead of quitting. The movie is sort of an argument against “decent” living and might be viewed as a promotion for Machiavellism (which was a trend in the 80s, as it may seem).
[P.S. you might want to check out both actors, the director and the same writer in E’dam Mayet featuring Omar Khairat’s score in the background. You also might want to check out El Beda wel Hagar, done by the same director, implementing a similar idea featuring our very own Ahmed Zaky]
2. Al Baree’/ The Innocent (1986)
You probably saw it coming. This is one of the most influential political films (you’ll see more in the list) starring the genius Ahmed Zaky, whose cinema history is filled with such films. Written by Wahid Hamed (who focuses on political and freedom-related topics in his works such as Al Raqesa Wa Al Syasy and Ma’aly Al Wazeer) and directed by Atef El Tayeb, the film is the story of a naive young Egyptian villager who moves into the desert to work as a soldier for a political prison. The movie captures the brainwashing Ahmed goes through, that turns him into a monster torturing political prisoners, in a brilliant way. But soon enough, he starts to think on his own and see how everything around him is built on double standards (represented in Mahmoud Abd El Aziz’s role). In my opinion, the movie captures the innocence of young Sab’ El Leil (played by Ahmed Zaky) more than the prejudice of the system. And it always leaves me wondering if Ahmed is really innocent. The film was produced in the mid 80s but the full version was only screened 19 years after. Al Baree2 is a touching drama that doubles as a reflection of a lot of what was going on at that time in the history of Egypt. The film featured music by Ammar Al Shere’y.
3. Al Massir / Destiny (1997)
We move to the 90s with one of Youssef Chahine’s latest (and controversial, as usual) works. Yes it’s set in the 90s but the movie takes us back to the 12th century in Andalusia, Spain, telling the story of the Muslim thinker/scientist Ibn Rushd. The film is a reflection of the everlasting conflict between fundamentalism and secularism. Ibn Rushd is known as the father of modern secularism and argued back then against dogmatism in religious thought. Chahine’s works always have something to do with philosophy and religion and that is their beauty. Too serious? NO. The film is first class entertainment. The film made it to the Cannes festival as well as at least 3 other of his films. Nour El Sherif brilliantly played Ibn Rushd, alongside a young Hani Salama, Khaled El Nabawi, and our Nubian singer, Mohamed Mounir. With a spectacular cast and outstanding performances, I can never get enough of this one.
4. Al Erhab Wa Al Kebab / Terrorism and Kebab (1992)
Sounds funny, no? It’s definitely more than what it sounds like. The film, directed by Sherif Arafa, is a scream at bureaucracy and government corruption in the 90s and takes place in Al Mogamma in Tahrir Square, where lots of government-related papers are issued and processed. Ahmed (Adel Imam) is an average Egyptian citizen who gets so lost among lazy government officials and bribe-takers that he finally decides to lock the building and take everyone inside hostage. Even though the film is purely comedic, you can’t help but notice the frustration Wahid Hamed wants to show the government. Ahmed orders kebab for everyone in the building, which is a sign of how these people are innocent and crushed. Adel Imam has a long history with political movies, starting with his most famous Toyor Al Zalam (which is more related to modern politics), Al Erhaby, to Emaret Yacoubian. He also played some of the most iconic characters in Egyptian cinema, such as in Shams Al Zanaty and El Mansy (two of my personal favorites).
5. Al Kit Kat (1991)
How about some entertainment that has nothing to do with either politics or religion? Dawood Abdel Sayyed (probably one of the few remaining good directors) presents this interesting character, Hosny. A poor blind old guy living in a small neighborhood makes it through his day and gets high with friends and plays oud all night. Al Kit Kat is a chill yet incredibly entertaining comedy.
This article is not inclusive. I’m just a fan. Shout out to my friend Hazem El Essawy for his contribution and insights.