English Title: The Night of Counting the Years
Original Title: Al-mummia
Director/Writer: Chadi Abdel Salam
Music: Mario Nascimbene
Cinematography: Abdel Aziz Fahmy
Zouzou Hamdy El-Hakim
Having been in Egypt for more than 10 months, still I have been oblivious to any Egyptian film, which doesn’t seem to be right, on its imdb page it writes “Universally recognised as one of the greatest Egyptian films ever made”, so what would be more promising to start with this one as my introduction piece to Egyptian cinema.
The film is based upon the true story of the discovery of 40 Royal Mummies in 1881 in Thebes, the capital of the Pharaonic Empire, notably produced by Roberto Rossellini. As director Chadi Abdel Salam’s only feature length output, evening before seeing it, one finds it is a national treasure inspires reverence.
The plot-line is quite lucid, Wannis (Marei) is the son of the recently deceased chieftain of the ancient Horbat clan, after his uncles reveal the family secret to him and his brother – the clan is involved into the black market business of a cache of mummies which is discovered nearby to sustain the livelihood of the entire clan. After his brother being murdered for not condoning this act, it is a morally and religiously challenging task for Wannis to do what he thinks is right.
The middle east’s exotic allure is predictably presented, but with a primitive and impassive approach, which is characterised with slow-paced camera movement unwaveringly taking up the film from A to Z (except some rapid editing to the violent scenes), so is the performance, as handsome as he is, Marei exclusively maintains the same facial expression of sacred fortitude throughout the entire movie, with a small dose of anger if the script requires, recites his lines without detectable emotional upheaval. The only actor who is worthy his line-of-work is Murad (Nabih), the broker between the clan and the antiquity buyer Ayoub (Noureddin), but in a land where film as an art form, has never fully burgeoned, one should have mercy to the team behind.
This is how unique the films is, a self-aware seriousness to the subject matter overhangs, it is like a laconic essay either tricks audience into its enigmatic maze of a distant realm (with bizarrely-shaped tombs and buried sarcophagi among yellow desert and angular knolls) only lives in one’s imagination, or it bores you instantly with its mechanic graveness, it destines to be divisive.
The DVD version of the film is shoddy at the most, which may be a chief reason for my underwhelmed appreciation, but if cultural intrigue is really your cup of tea, it is not a wide eye-opener per se, but for better or worse, it is a different viewing experience, only if there is a better version of it in circulation.