One great thing about foreign films is you get to see different production and storytelling techniques. Watching too many Hollywood films can leave you with a jaded feeling. You know that if it’s rated PG-13 an f-bomb won’t be dropped. If there’s a hunky male lead, he will be shirtless in at least one scene. The same goes with a female lead, though she will usually keep her bra on. You just start feeling the film is predictable. Unfortunately, Egypt’s “The Yacoubian Building” (aka “Omaret Yakobean”) tried too hard to follow the Hollywood model, making it a rather disappointing foreign film.
“The Yacoubian Building” centers around five main characters who all live in or on the roof of the Yacoubian Building. Zaki Bey el Dessouki is the son of a Pasha (think of a British Lord). He is kicked out of the Yacoubian Building by his sister for his flirting with women. Taha el Shazli is the son of a doorman/janitor who lives on the roof. After failing to become a policeman because of his family’s status, Taha goes to university where he becomes involved in an Islamist militant organization. Buthayna el Sayed also lives on the roof and was engaged to Taha, but after experiencing the harsh realities of grown men in the work place, she becomes disillusioned with the idea of purity. Buthayna eventually falls in love with Zaki. Hatim Rasheed is a gay journalist who becomes lovers with a married man. Hagg Azzam is a religious businessman who is very wealthy. He enters into another marriage, because his first wife was not providing him with enough sex. Hagg becomes a Pasha while also dealing with some corrupt business practices. The film takes place over a few years, but doesn’t wander far from the Yacoubian Building.
Watching “The Yacoubian Building” takes some knowledge of Egyptian history and Islam, especially concerning politics and the law. Even still, the stories aren’t too different from what we would watch in America. Affairs, wealth and poverty, and gunfights are things we see on a regular basis. However, because this is an Egyptian film, there are some differences. The story-line of Hagg looking for another wife and Taha becoming an extremist aren’t regularly brought up in Hollywood films. The way certain things were shot also mirror more of an Egyptian point of view than American. There are no actual sex scenes in the film, only implications. Hatim’s homosexuality is more a stereotype meant to get laughs than anything else. Apparently Egyptians had more problems with the homosexuality in the film than anything else.
Other than those differences, “The Yacoubian Building” didn’t provide any insights onto how Egyptian films really look. The production value here was pretty much on par with lower-grossing Hollywood films. Apparently, the film was the highest-budgeted Egyptian film ever produced. As we all know, though, a higher budget doesn’t necessarily mean a better film. I would have much rather have seen a lower-budgeted film that captured Egyptian filmmaking than a higher-budgeted film that followed the Hollywood standard.
“The Yacoubian Building” stars Adel Imam, Mohamed Imam, Hend Sabri, Khaled El Sawy and Nour El Sherif.
“The Yacoubian Building” played this week during the African Film Festival in Portland, Ore. The African Film Festival is running from Feb. 5 through March 6.
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