Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Mummy - The Night of Counting the Years

Al-Mummia; drama, Egypt, 1969; D: Shadi Abdel Salam, S: Ahmed Marei, Ahmad Hegazi, Mohamed Nabih, Nadia Lutfi, Shafik Nour El Din

Egypt, 19th century. The Horbat tribe has been secretly stealing artifacts from a site of the tomb of Pharaohs from Ancient Egypt and selling them to Ayoub for the black market. One lad, Wanis, feels guilt for such desecration of the ancient past. When Ayoub arrives once again in his ship, Wanis takes the artifact away from him, so Ayoub's men beat him up, while the merchant threatens that he will not be buying anything from the Horbat tribe anymore and that they will starve from poverty. Uflinched by threats to keep quiet, Wanis approaches a ship of the authorities at night and contacts the Inspector. Upon hearing all of this, the Inspector's crew arrive to the cave where all the mummies and sarcophagus were kept, and transports them to their ship in order to get them to the museum.

Even though it is often cited by numerous local critics as one of the best movies of the Egyptian, and even wider Arab cinema in general, "The Mummy", sometimes also titled "The Night of Counting the Years", is a hermetic-grey art-film that lacks true highlights or ingenuity, thereby not managing to shake off the impression of an "only" good film. Director Shadi Abdel Salam crafts the film without a clear tangle, or even a classic three-act structure, and thus the viewers might feel confused at times, especially in the abrupt ending, yet he still offers a few symbolic messages through the allegorical plot of modern Egypt surviving by exploiting and selling its glorious ancient past, presented in the concept of grave diggers who sell priceless ancient artifacts for a cheap buck. Wanis, the protagonist, serves as the conscience of the tribe, trying to persuade them to find another way, realizing that the ones who destroy their own past probably have no future. Salam uses a few aesthetic images that are reminiscent of Antonioni's feeling of isolation and despair, just set in the Egyptian culture, and some of them are indeed opulent (the bird's-eye view of Wanis walking towards the wall; a sail "sticking" out from over the dune, indicating a ship behind in the Nile; the finale of dozens of people carrying the sarcophagi over the hills, passing through the natives observing them), just as are some of the existentialist dialogues ("Afraid of feelings and memory." - "What memory? Remembering weakens the will."- "What will? The will to forget what was truth for me yesterday?" / "Stranger, my pain is the whole life I've lived..."). Still, this minimalistic style left a lot of characters underdeveloped, since everyone except Wanis is just an extra, making this a 'one-note concept' that needed more versatility.


No comments: