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Al-mohager (The Emigrant)

Posted by martinteller on March 25, 2013

Adam (Michel Piccoli) has 8 sons, but Ram (Khaled Nabawy) is his favorite.  Ram wants to travel to Egypt to study agriculture and help his family.  But his brothers are jealous and his sister-in-law Basma (Safia El Emari) wants him dead, so the brothers tie him up and leave him in a ship’s hold to die.  Ram manages to escape, and is sold into the service of one of the pharaoh’s top men.  Ram manages to make an impression on the head of the pharaoh’s guard, Amihar (Mahmoud Hemida), who gives the young upstart a tract of land in the desert.  If he can grow crops there, the land is his.  Ram, with the help of his beloved Hati (Hanan Turk), succeeds, but soon is caught in a sexual, religious and political power struggle between Amihar and his beautiful fiancée Simihit (Youssra).

Youssef Chahine loosely adapts the Biblical story of Joseph for the big screen, with an Egyptian perspective.  He changed the names to avoid censorship, but it was banned anyway for depicting prophets.  Then the ban was lifted, and it was banned again for not following the text close enough.  So it was banned for not changing enough and banned for changing too much.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I’m not a Bible guy, most of what I know is dimly recalled from Bible comics I read at a friend’s house as a lad.  So I had to brush up on my Joseph.  Chahine does away with most of the religious elements — there are no prophecies, no dreams, not even much mention of God (although quite a lot of business about Aton and Amon that I didn’t entirely follow) — and the multi-colored coat business.  He also compresses a lot of the Joseph story into the last 20-30 minutes and focuses primarily on his rise as a struggling young would-be farmer, and his relationship with Hati.

Nabawy is a charismatic fellow with a roguish flair to him, and serves nicely as the lead.  His chemistry with Turk is very sweet and most of the best parts of the film involve their romance.  Youssra is quite fascinating too, and Hemida has a bold presence.  Piccoli seems there only for the name recognition, but he manages well with a small role.

The film has a fine polish to it and the production seems comparable to your average Hollywood movie.  Perhaps in a slightly outdated style, but there are some gorgeous scenes.  It’s a decent enough tale, but keeps switching gears and moves in fits and starts.  You never really get a sense of any particular message or theme.  Also the Simihit/Amihar stuff gets rather confusing, and Hati deserves to be a larger character.  But I enjoyed it more than I would have expected to enjoy a Biblical adaptation (or semi-adaptation).  Nabaway’s charm and Chahine’s sure-footed direction keep it from going off the rails.  Rating: Good (70)



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