Omaret Yacobian

Posted on August 5, 2006


Yesterday I finally managed to see The Yacobian Building. I enjoyed it immensely. I thought the directing and soundtrack, in particular, were excellent. Honestly, it’s amazing how good music can make even downtown seem alluring and full of hidden depth.
Everyone kept telling me how great a role Khaled El Sawy played as the homosexual journalist Hatem Rachid. I, however, thought he might have overdone it a bit, when he spoke and laughed. What’s more, somehow in the movie he came off as a much less sympathetic character than in the book, although the director said he tried to portray him as a “normal human being”. He came off as sexually exploitative and foolish by turns, whereas in the book I felt that he was simply a lonely man with sexual issues just like everyone else. When he attempts to reassure his lover that God will look mercifully upon them, the dialogue has been subtly changed to make him sound ridiculous instead of rational. Egyptian audiences, who are complete animals, laughed every time he came on the screen, even when his heart was broken. In Egypt, people always laugh when sad things happen to people who are “evil” or who have done wrong. Pricks. Also, as far as I know, men who are sexually molested as children go on to do it to other children as adults, they don’t grow up to become submissive homosexuals. They don’t become that way through neglectful parenting either.
I didn’t buy Adel Imam as Zaki el Dessouki for a moment. For one thing, he kept trying to inject his comedic persona in there, and it was totally the wrong kind of humour. His English and French were terrible. No one could have been convinced that he had grown up refined, expensively educated abroad, cultured. At least Khaled el Sawy managed to convey that very well in his own role. I would have liked to see Ezzat Abou Ouf play the role of Zaki, although he might be too physically imposing, still, to be seen as a pitiable wreck. Um…I like Ezzat Abou Ouf. I mourn the recent demise of his toupee. Despite Adel Imam’s shortcomings, however, I completely believed the love story between him and the poor young girl, Buthaina.
Of course the portrayal of Taha El Shazli, the bawab’s son turned terrorist, was very sympathetic. Most Egyptians, I guess, can completely understand how the cruelties of life in Egypt can push a person to extremes. Obviously religion is usually what people turn to when life is hard, but Taha only seeks violence when he is arrested for being in a protest and raped and tortured in prison, particularly after the rape. I don’t know what other Egyptians thought about the actual account of the torture…I’m sure there are people in Egypt who think that the government would still shrink from attacking someone sexually, but lots of people know it happens regularly. Anyway, I was uncomfortable with the implication that sexual assault is a firm justification for violent revenge. Of course, it would only be so for men. No one would expect a woman sexually assaulted in prison to seek to kill the rapist, or even be unduly upset. I mean, she got herself in prison, even if it was through peaceful protest, so she must have “understood the risks”. It’s just another one of those millions of double standards that plague the life of those with vaginas here – how upset they have the right to be after a violation of their person. Not that I didn’t understand Taha’s desire for revenge in the first place; I just objected to the rape being depicted as, for him, the rending of his honour and the last straw. Sexual assault is violence; it is neither more nor less than that, and the sooner people start to see that it is on a level with any other kind of assault, the sooner we will start to see proper punishment.
I hope that this movie will open people’s eyes about sexual exploitation (as different from sexual assault, or consensual sex) in general. I’m sure many audience members, the staunch fat matrons who left their father’s house to slave in their husband’s, or those men to who whom women are still chattel, simply dismissed Buthaina as just another poor girl who sold her honour for money, thus forever damned and stripped of personhood. I’m sure no one stopped to really think about the conditions of her life, and no one stopped to attach the smallest blame to the store owner who gives her 10 pounds to rub up against her obsecenely. Egyptians see male sexuality as an unstoppable force, only to be controlled by the resistance of women, not by fucking keeping your dick in your pants. Taking advantage of a woman here is hardly acknowledged to exist, except if she thinks she has been falsely promised marriage. The imbalance of power is hardly examined. Egyptians have such fucked up notions about sex and consent and chastity. I’m sure, like Parliament, they are busier discussing whether this movie has damaged Egypt’s image or whatever, rather than turning a critical eye on themselves, or at least embracing the reality that every nation, everywhere, will have the same vices. I tried to brace myself before I arrived here for the narrow-mindedness of Egyptians in every possible way, but I don’t think I adequately prepared myself. Maybe I am coming off as morally superior, but I am generally prepared to give people the benefit of the doubt, and most Egyptians have so far proved unworthy of it, as far as women are concerned (not to mention minorities, other races, anyone outside the advantaged mainstream really).