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04 02 2007 - Il film egiziano al Festival del Cinema di Berlino
e Yacoubian Building (2006)From Com.ià Armena RM/Lazio )
Constructed of equal parts florid soap opera and taboo-shattering social realism, The Yacoubian Building is an entertaining, if overwrought ensemble drama that opens a fascinating window on life in contemporary Egypt. This sprawling and expensively mounted adaptation of Alaa Al Aswany's controversial best-selling novel has already raised the hackles of Egyptian politicians, who complain that The Yacoubian Building "is spreading obscenity and debauchery" through its depiction of homosexuality, police brutality, and Islamic extremism as facets of everyday life in Cairo. Tackling such issues with admirable candor, the father-son filmmaking team of screenwriter Wahid Hamid and director Marwan Hamed do a fine job of drawing you into the intertwined lives and loves of the tenants of a Cairo apartment building. And while it's mostly lacking in subtlety and nuance, The Yacoubian Building is always watchable, even as it veers into histrionic melodrama.

After a vivid prologue tracing the building's transformation from 1930s-era luxury residence to its current status as home to rich and poor alike, The Yacoubian Building introduces us to its cast of characters, who represent a cross-section of Egyptian society. These characters run the socioeconomic gamut from Zaki (Adel Imam), a wealthy and cosmopolitan bachelor embroiled in an ugly legal feud with his sister, Dalawt (Essad Youniss), to Taha (Mohamed Inam), the poor but ambitious son of the building's doorman, whose pretty girlfriend, Buthayna (Hend Sabri), must constantly fend off the unwanted sexual advances of her boss. While Zaki treats Taha with courtesy, he barely hides his snobbish contempt for self-made millionaire Haj Azzam (Nour El Sherif), whose political ambitions lead him to forge a dangerous partnership with corrupt city officials. And finally, there's Hatim Rasheed (Khaled El Sawy), an openly gay newspaper editor desperately in love with a naïve young soldier from the countryside. Over time, as Taha gets involved with Islamic extremists, Buthayna will turn away from her childhood sweetheart to find unexpected solace with Zaki, while both Haj Azam and Hatim will fall prey to their respective desires, as life goes on under the once grand roof of the Yacoubian Building.

Clocking in at 165 minutes, The Yacoubian Building overflows with enough subplots, characters, and juicy intrigue for several films. To his credit, first-time director Hamid keeps the multiple, crisscrossing storylines unfolding at a brisk pace—maybe too briskly, for there's not much emotional or psychological texture to the film. Like any effective serial drama, The Yacoubian Building is consistently entertaining, but there's a superficial quality to much of it, even at its most provocative, i.e., the storyline depicting Hateem's emotional rollercoaster love affair with a married soldier. The scenes depicting Taha's embrace of Islamic extremism—and his subsequent torture by Cairo police officers on the hunt for terrorists—pack more of a dramatic wallop, but they're too sketchily rendered to be truly disturbing.

Egypt's official submission for Oscar consideration in the 2006 Best Foreign Language Film category, The Yacoubian Building is a flawed, yet ultimately illuminating film worth seeing.



Il sito è curato dall'Arch. Vahé Vartanian e dal Dott. Enzo Mainardi;
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