The French Cultural Center in Egypt, in partnership with the German Goethe Institute and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, are calling back the mummies from their tombs with a series of films screened at the Egyptian Museum and the French Cultural Center in Mounira and Alexandria.
The selection of films, three in total, is quite bizarre though and the artistic, and entertainment, value of two of those movies is below average to say the least.
The first film screening tonight is great German director Ernst Lubitsch s 1922 s silent Eyes of the Mummy. The film revolves around Albert Wendland (Henry Liedtke), a British painter and adventurer visiting Cairo in a study expedition. After learning about the cursed tomb of Queen Ma, Wendland heads to the ancient graveyards to unveil the mystery before discovering the eyes of Ma (German siren Pola Negri) staring into him from her sarcophagus.
Wendland finds out that Ma is, in fact, an ordinary young woman held captive by a spell cast by the beast-like Radu (Emil Jannings in black paint). Wendland falls in love with Ma and whisks her to England where she eventually turns into a popular oriental dancer. Radu, who can t get to grips with his infatuation with Ma, traces her back to England in a tragic outcome.
The Mummy is a melodrama that, regardless of its title, has nothing to do with horror. Lubitsch, creator of some of the greatest romantic comedies in history, struggles to inject his magic touch to a predictable and tedious story.
Worst of all though, the film feels racist and stereotypical towards Egyptians in the same manner D.W. Griffith used to depict African Americans in The Birth of a Nation. The Osiris-worshipping Radu is the atypical uneducated Egyptian barbarian who dwells in a desert that looks like a neat, abandoned outskirt in Germany.
Second feature is the French Belphégor, Phantom of the Louvre starring Sophie Marceau. Based on the famous comic books and the popular 1965 mini-series, the film follows the evil spirit Belphégor, residing inside a coffin brought to the Louvre Museum from Egypt, as it randomly haunts the body of a young French woman (Marceau) and causes havoc in the Parisian art shrine.
An overblown, dumb mimicking of Stephen Sommers The Mummy, Belphégor is essentially a B-movie that lacks the wit, pace and charm of the mini-series. The unimaginative action sequences fail to conceal the overdramatic acting, stillness of the story and the sheer mediocrity of every other element.
The two films are joined with Chadi Abdel Salam s masterpiece Al-Mummia (The Mummy). Widely regarded as the greatest Egyptian film of all time, the film tells the story of Wanis, the descendent of a tomb-robbing family. He finds himself in a moral dilemma when he has to chose between protecting his family and preserving the Egyptian heritage by reporting some new findings to a group of archeologists on a mission to save the relics from being sold to foreigners.
Produced by the Italian master of neo-realism Roberto Rossellini, Mummia is a philosophical allegory about identity and the conflict between materialism and art.
The stolen relics represent the culture Wanis family deems to be a luxury. Wanis recognizes in those paintings and statues something perhaps more important than food and other basic needs: their identity; who they were and who they are now. Selling those relics is no different than vending oneself to the highest bidders, than selling everything the country stood for and sacrificing an entire future for a few bucks.
Abdel Salam – a painter, architect, set designer and custom designer – produced a visually poetic and evocative film that looks like a series of captivating paintings set against the beauty and mysteriousness of the desert.
Mario Nascimbene s mystifying score moves in seamless harmony with Abdel Aziz Fahmy s natural, atmospheric cinematography resulting in the most perfect picture produced in this country. No other Egyptian film came close to matching the majesty of Abdel Salam’s only film and, most probably, no other film will.
“The Eyes of the Mummy Egyptian MuseumTahrir Square, Downtown, CairoThursday, September 209 pm
French Cultural Center30 Nabi Daniel St, AlexandriaTel: (03) 492-0804 / 491-8952Saturday, September 228 pm