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Love in the Medina (2011): Hotter than Sex and the City

I knew next to nothing about Love in the Medina (2011, جناح الهوى) when I went in to see it, nothing other than what I had read in the film synopsis on the website to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. I don’t impetuously attend festival screenings as I used to—spontaneity undercut by schedule.

I didn’t know that Love in the Medina starred Omar Lotfi, whose name I hadn’t recognized but whose face I then did from Casanegra, a Dutch/Moroccan production I had watched a couple of years ago. I didn’t know that it had been the Moroccan box office champion of 20111, nor that it was the first Moroccan film (a joint Italian-Moroccan production) to depict a nude actor in the act of love making2.

Love in the Medina, whose script was adapted from Choice Cuts, a novel by Mahmed Nedali (غراميات متعلم جزار لمحمد نيد علي), is a sultry melodrama about a young man’s irrepressible affinity for the flesh that continually pits him against traditional patriarchy and societal stricture. Love in the Medina mostly succeeds in generating a particular sort of heat, a combination of provocation and titillation, thanks to its photography and to its actors’ intrepid performances.

The story of Love in the Medina is centered on Thami (التهامي) whose adolescent fascination with flesh in the kitchen grows into a fascination with flesh in the bedroom. Well, not just in the bedroom, since the frolicking in Love in the Medina, all of which involving Thami, takes place in a variety of stimulating spots. Ah, but this of course is a melodrama, which means that Thami can’t get off without trouble. The trouble is primarily personified by his father, a religious judge and stern patriarch, whose strictures are Islamic in flavor, but familiar to patriarchic family life everywhere. The father who rarely communicates with his son other than to admonish, resents his son’s wanting to become a butcher, having ideas for a more respectable profession for Thami, before coming around to establishing a stall of a butcher’s shop for Thami in Casablanca’s Medina (the old city) market, enabling himself to exert control over his son’s life as he grows into manhood. The father would later attempt to consummate this control by marrying off his son to a select girl from the countryside named Keltoum, only to encounter inevitable disappointment upon learning of his married son’s affair with a married woman, resulting in Thami’s repudiation and excommunication.

The father, though having intimations of his son’s disregard for god and tradition, never learns of the contribution the butcher’s shop makes to his son’s sex life, which had up to the point of its founding been restricted to self love and the perfunctory pleasure offered by communal bath attendant and prostitute Halima. The butcher’s introduces Thami to a hitherto unavailable world of carnal prospects, pursued in charged and provocative sex scenes, featuring food, both raw and cooked, as well as fetching conveniently Oriental settings: the stall in the market, a Moroccan traditional parlor festooned with mosaic tile, and a traditional communal bath.

The boinking session inside of Thami’s stall (Don’t ask me how!) involves a French tourist who seems particularly interested in Thami’s trade, confiding in him that she had always been fascinated by raw meat. For decades I have known of the utility of tongues in love making, only that I had been under the impression that they necessarily came attached. I later would recall the love scene in the Itami classic Tampopo, with its raw egg swapping.

Tampopo (1985)

The parlor scene certainly had me tingling more than the butcher’s scene, in part because I am partial to ripe, raw tomato over ripe raw cow tongue, but also because the lovemaking between Thami and Zineb, his paramour, evidently consummates a long raging mutual desire, one in which I had become invested. Also notable is the photography of this scene, what with its soft focus and its mosaic backdrop. It’s the editing that makes the scene though, at whose beginning, Zineb appears in close-up brandishing what seems a lip sore, puzzling until she soon thereafter grabs for a tomato and bites into it, as she straddles Thami, suggesting a dissonant temporality. As such, editing the shots in this sequence in a temporally non-linear fashion enhances the suspense and aptly replicates the characters’ hazy temporal perception, while in the throes of passion.

The bathhouse sequence, delicately shot and convincingly performed as it is, suffers not only from its nodding to Orientalists tropes of exoticizing the mundane, eroticizing it whenever possible, but also from exposing Zineb’s body, in the only instance of nudity in the film, but not Thami’s, even though she had taken a markedly greater risk than he in participating in their affair. Instead, exposing Thami’s body alone would have not only proven less typical than as done, but also more faithful to the characters’ individual contributions to their romance.

Other than arousing nice and well, Laraki does elicit precise and revealing performances from his talented cast and does effectively recall the oppressive mood of 1990s Morocco, during which most of the story takes place. (Upon mentioning the film and its surrounding controversy to my Moroccan barber, he quipped to a visiting friend that if they had dared screen this film in Morocco in the days of Hasan II then it would have been “Oh, hou, hoou!”) Expectedly, the film’s production design does suffer for the small budget (a million dollars, reportedly)3. Moreover, editing so as to abruptly move back and forth in time, though effective in the discussed parlor sex scene, does not serve the telling of the story, which moves rather abruptly as if, as my companion had remarked, missing key scenes that had been edited out of the final picture.

As I left the cinema, I gauged my state of mind as customary. Recalling the alluring images of food and flesh I noted that I was neither hungry nor particularly aroused. I think that I had too much tongue on my mind.

Works Cited

  1. Simon, Alissa. "Love in the Medina." Rev. of Love in the Medina. Reed Elsevier Inc., 12, 18, 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <>.
  2. Al-Khudeiri, Mohammed. "Moroccan Audacity in Love in the Medina (in Arabic)." Rev. of Love in theMedina. Akhbarona (in Arabic) 6, 12, 2011: n. pag. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <>.
  3. See reference # 2

Reflections on Reflections: Qasaqees ath-Thikrayat

There are memoirs that reach well beyond the experience of their authors to realize insight and wisdom in a multitude of domains that contain the human experience. Qasaqees ath-Thikrayat (قصاقيص الذكريات, Cutouts of Memories) is not such a memoir.

Kamal AtiyahQasaqees at-Thikrayat recollects notable experiences and events relating to most of the twenty-three feature films and one of the several documentary films directed by Kamal Atiyah. The book’s chapters are assigned a film each, recounting their plots before turning to anecdotes of their production and personalities. Yet, though these anecdotes do amuse at times and do signify practices and intrigues of the Egyptian cinema industry, their implausibility is exasperating. Moreover, Atiyah, as accomplished as his career has proven—one that has involved songwriting, writing, directing and voice acting—is defensive and at times self-aggrandizing, so as to thwart any levity or insight otherwise garnered. A chuckle to every handful of yawns amalgamated.

Yawns would have been sufferable, but not the several cringes drawing mainly from the three deferential references to Hitler and from Atiyah’s boasting about having rightly, to his thinking, got away with hitting a Jewish East German production manager who had provoked Atiyah by presenting him with a bouquet of flowers, lifted from a hotel table, in recognition of the death of Abdel Hakim Amer, during the tumult that had rocked Egypt following its stunning defeat in the 67 War.

So why did I read it? Because my brother had gifted me the book and might have fairly wondered if I were going to discuss it on my film blog. More so, I wanted to compare the best regarded film of Atiyah’s titled Um-Hashim’s Lantern (قنديل أم هاشم, 1968) to one I soon intend to write about, a favorite of mine titled The Postman (البوسطجي, 1968), because both films’ screenplays are adapted from novels by the same author, venerated Egyptian literary figure Yahya Haqqi, and because both feature actor Shukri Sarhan in the lead role.

No contest—The Postman is vastly superior to Um-Hashim’s Lantern, reminding me that diligence and ambition will get you a long way, but greatness requires knack.


Al-Kitkat (1991): Soaring above the Doldrums

Have you ever watched a film that seemed to encourage you to speak with the characters on the screen or with a neighbor, during its watching? There are films that convey to the audience not to concern themselves with plot so much, though plots come attached, but with the companionship and kinship between the characters portrayed. Such films have often been disparagingly dubbed “buddy flicks,” as if there were something embarrassing about enjoying companionship and kinship.

Films as varied as Renoir’s La Grand Illusion, Hawks’s Rio Bravo, and Spheeris’s Wayne’s World (yes, Wayne’s World) gloriously exemplify such a rhetorical approach, in that they present us with authentic, sincere characters interacting in such a way as not to be in the service of some compulsory plot, but in the service of each other. Yet, these films’ radiance stems from their masterful control of tone, so enrapturing as to irresistibly invite the audience to interact with their characters. Such films also invite repeated viewing, because they are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Al-Kitkat is such a film.

Al-Kitkat (El-Kitkat, الكيت كات) is also notable for being both its auteur director’s most popular film and his best. Daoud Abdel Sayed is one the most accomplished Egyptian directors working today, one whose body of work is arguably rivaled only by Yousri Nasrallah and Mohamed Khan’s. Al-Kitkat is the third of eight films that Abdel Sayed has made, beginning with The Vagabonds in 1985, all of which have I seen. His films, all of whose scripts he has worked on, repeatedly exhibit several bents of their “author”: a potent nostalgia; a love of music and an appreciation for its contribution to film, in both its diagetic and non-diagetic form; an evident adoration of his characters, including of the “villains” among them, and a regard for them that exceeds the demands of plot making; an inclination toward long takes, minutes-long at times; and perhaps most conspicuously his championing of non-conformity that manifests in the depiction of outcasts and rebels, granted, but also obtains in a thoroughgoing depiction of non-conformity as embraced by socially conscious common people who come around to recognizing that the rules have been written to benefit those who’ve written them and, more significantly, that the rules have been written too broadly to mind the unique conditions of the individual.

Daoud Abdel SayedAbdel Sayed’s films to my mind have usually been excellent and have twice approached greatness (the whimsical Land of Dreams, which appropriately became legendary actor Faten Hamama’s cinematic swan song, and the superb crime drama Land of Fear, about which I intend to post). Yet, only al-Kitkat has attained such greatness, due to the superlative contributions of two other personalities involved—Ibrahim Aslan, author of Malik al-Hazin (The Heron, not that one shows up anywhere in the novel. It is perhaps Aslan himself), the novel from which the screenplay was adapted, and Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, who plays Sheikh Husni, the protagonist. Al-Kitkat would showcase the greatest achievements of these three collaborators.

The Heron (1983) is a sprawling novel, which is belied by its unintimidating length of 170 pages or so. Thus, The Heron adapted into screenplay was necessarily condensed (even Altman would have struggled with so many characters and incidents), narratively unified and aptly anchored in the character of a single protagonist—Sheikh Husni. The novel, which took Aslan nearly a decade to write, names tens of characters, progresses by moving ahead and in between a handful or so narrative lines, and seems to distill two centuries in the history of Imbaba district, particularly of its neighborhood dubbed al-Kitkat, which had once been an enormous bar constructed by the locals for land owner Baron Henry Meyer, before it was shut down following the “blessed” revolution ( in 1952) then converted into shops by people who tore into its structure.

Ibrahim AslanAslan, who passed away at the beginning of this year, published little, over the course of his near half-century-long career. The Heron, his most celebrated work, itself reads as if selected and extracted from a much larger document, which seems confirmed by his having reported that he wrote with an eraser.1 The Heron bombards the reader with names of people and locations, relates events not obviously marked as occurring or remembered, and frequently transitions between subplots, some proving inchoate and all coming to a collective boil as the novel wraps with the assault on al-Kitkat by security forces during the 1977 Bread Riots. Read in 2012, the delicately written and richly detailed story of The Heron turns particularly eerie toward the end as a character examines a protest in Tahrir Square then later collects used teargas canisters inscribed with “Made in the USA.” That the edition of The Heron I had read (in Arabic, though it has been translated into English) had boasted a forward by Suzanne Mubarak only entrenched such eeriness. 

Mahmoud Abdel Aziz at the time of the film’s making was a star. His rugged European good looks had surely supported his talent in positioning him as a romantic/adventure lead in Egyptian cinema (the obvious favoring of European looks, especially among female leads is a worthy topic of a future entry). Although lacking the gravitas of contemporaries Nour El-Sherif (who had co-starred with Abdel Aziz in Abdel Sayed’s first film The Vagabonds) and Ahmed Zaki, Abdel Aziz over the course of the 1980s exhibited a knack for mischievous humor and for folk music performance, both of which would inform Abdel Aziz’s performance in al-Kitkat, a performance effected with such relish as to suggest that the actor had waited his entire career to play Sheikh Husni in a performance that will likely go down as Abdel Aziz’s career best.

Abdel Aziz’s portrayal of the blind deadbeat appears at first affected, until the viewer realizes that this is not a miscalibration on the part of the actor, but a manifest quality of the character’s. Sheikh Husni is a mischievous operator, who could well owe half the neighborhood money, money of which he manages to make a little on the side by guiding blind people around the district (the blind leading the blind?) He affects and exaggerates because he feels he must to get by. The way he had to sell the house that his father had built, home to his mother and his equally work-averse son, to get by, even though he admits when pressed that he sold it to his drug dealer El-Haram (a nickname meaning “the pyramid”) to support his hashish habit. Despite such failing, rather with its aid, Abdel Aziz imbues his Sheikh Husni with such charisma as to make him irresistible and unforgettable.

Abdel Sayed conjoined the talents of Aslan and Abdel Aziz, along with those of other skilled cast and crew members to craft an entertaining, heartwarming film that is visually and auditorily impressive. The three numbers, featuring Sheik Husni’s singing and oud playing, especially the one in duet with his son, not only entertain the viewer, but also illustrate the joy that music brings to people who populate a world that at times seems set against themselves.

As for the imagery, it is pleasantly surprising to learn that the film had been shot entirely in a studio2. The vividness in detail of the set design and the languorous pacing of the action convince us of the authenticity of milieu and invite us to sympathetically regard the lives of the unsuccessfully working class of al-Kitkat. Two standout sequences illustrate this. One is a still camera, minute long shot that begins with Sheikh Husni and his blind client Sheikh Ubeid in extreme long shot, barely visible behind street vendors and pedestrians, though audible, as they shoot the breeze while ambling toward the camera. Another sequence qualifies as one of the few “pure cinema” sequences I have encountered in commercial Arab cinema. In it, Sheikh Husni convinces the owner of a scooter to permit him to take it for a spin, resulting in an exulting moment that feels like a lifetime, all the more impressive considering the havoc that such a stunt wreaks in al-Kitkat.

As I considered my lack of concern for blind Sheikh Husni, joyriding a Vespa in a crowded neighborhood, I realized that it was because I believed what he believed, which was that everything would be alright, as if I were being reassured by an old friend who is much more seeing than given credit for. It is in this good natured, authentic reassurance that al-Kitkat’s distinction is located. Those among us who have seen it and championed it know that whenever in the doldrums, we can pop al-Kitkat in, imagine the sofa a Vespa, pay Sheikh Husni a visit and willingly permit him to drive it, so that, if only for a couple of hours, we may soar above our doldrums.

Works Cited

  1. Qualey, M. Lynx. "Goodbye Ibrahim Aslan." Egypt Independant. Al-Masry Al-Youm, 1, 8, 2012. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.
  2. Shafik, Viola. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. Cairo, Egypt: The American University of Cairo Press, 1998. Print. 



How Newt Ended up in a Palestino Jersey

Goal Dreams

In summer of 2006, during my first stint as curator of Mizna’s Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, I sought out a feature documentary film titled Goal Dreams, on the disturbed and perturbed experience of the Palestine national football team as it sought to qualify for the 2006 World Cup tournament in Germany. The festival committee that previewed the film liked it and voted to include it in the upcoming festival’s program. I thought it a heartwarming, accessible crowd pleaser that could draw in audiences who would otherwise not attend a film festival.

The particularity of the challenges facing the team leaves the viewer wondering how the Palestine Football Association had managed to assemble a team at all, a national team representing a state that hardly resembles a state. Without a functioning football leagueat the time (the West Bank Premiere League has been functioning without interruption since 20081), adequate funding, or a location in Palestine in which the team could train, no thanks to restrictions by the Israeli authorities, qualifying seems nearly unattainable, though possibly not other rewards--less tangible rewards.

To add to the experiential, financial, and logistical challenges the team faces, the national team’s players struggle with cultural adjustment, having descended from four continents, speaking several languages natively. Yet, the players’ commitment to their collective goal of promoting Palestine through sport persists despite the challenges that would eventually prove insurmountable.

Among the players are six of Palestinian descents hailing from South America, one of whom, a Chilean Palestinian named Roberto, piqued my curiosity about Palestinian immigration to Chile. I would later discover that Chile is home to the largest Palestinian population outside the Arab World2, a population thought to number to between 250 and 400 thousand people3.

Months then years would pass before Newt Gingrich would claim during his run for the Republican nomination for the US presidency that the Palestinians are an invented people. I was naturally enraged, though I recognized that posturing for approval and for financial support of his campaign may have informed his observation. For some reason, I found myself casually looking online for content on Palestinian Chileans. That was when I learned of C. D. Palestino, a Chilean first division professional football club. Upon visiting the club’s web site, I was pleased to see images of the team depicting the words “Bank of Palestine” in Arabic and in English printed on its jersey (though I’d have been happier if it had been in Arabic and Spanish), suggesting an association between new and old country confirmed by the team’s intent, in 2009, to be listed on the Palestinian stock exchange4.

Upon learning of the team’s genesis, I grinned with the satisfaction of the evident truth: Why would immigrants name a football club “Palestino” upon its founding, in 1920, if such identification didn’t mean anything to them, especially considering that such naming/founding had occurred twenty eight years before the founding of the Zionist state. The obvious answer is that these immigrant deliberately named the club because “Palestine” did mean something.

Soon thereafter, I went online looking to buy a Palestino jersey. Alas, there was none for sale on the club website and those few I did find elsewhere were exorbitant. All I could afford was a pin:


Unlike well-heeled Newt, who could afford any jersey his sour heart desires:

Newt Gingrich comfortably retired to a Palestino jersey

*Goal Dreams is available in the US through Arab Film Distribution.

Works Cited

1.  "Brief History (in Arabic)." Palestine Football Association. Palestine Football Association, 14 May 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.

2.  "The people of Chile." this is Chile's ofificial website. Fundación Imagen de Chile, 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.

3.  Smith, Douglas. "Story of Chile's Palestinian Refugee Community, Past and Present." The Palestine Chronicle. The Palestine Chronicle, 16 May 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.

4. Cerda, Claudio. "Soccer-Chile's Palestino tapping roots to go public." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 17 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.


The Dupes (1972): Forgotten Masterpiece of Arab Cinema 

The Dupes (1972)A haggard man in extreme longshot lumbers over desert sands toward the viewer. A human skeleton foregrounds the shot. “Aghh, hackneyed symbolism of danger and morbidity,” I thought to myself. Upon reflection, I realize that there was nothing hackneyed about such symbolism, because it was not facile but apt. Metaphor is integral to narrative films that wish to affirm a point of view while avoiding didacticism. Metaphor will have manifested effectively when we decide that a film “has meaning.” Yet, most films’ metaphors fall short of delivering on their ostensible promise to inculcate us in the lessons about the world to which they point.



In The Dupes (المخدوعون, also The Duped and The Deceived), the struggles of the film’s four leads are both representative and metaphoric of the modern experience of the Palestinian people. It is precisely because The Dupes delivers as representation and as metaphor that it works; it is fine allegory. The Dupes draws a dramatic landscape that is poignant and credible in the realistic personal struggles of the main characters, drawn over space and time, while the metaphor grows the film’s audience entangling tentacles of anguish, horror and morbidity, whose marks well outlast The Dupes’ uncompromising ending.

As Viola Shafiq remarks in her book Arab Cinema, The Dupes is a Pan-Arabist film par excellence1 (though the adapted story of the film is anything but Pan-Arabist): a Syrian state production directed by Egyptian Tawfiq Saleh whose screenplay is based on the novella Men in the Sun by venerated Palestinian literary figure Ghassan Kanafani. Alignment of the principles’ interests may explain the film’s cohesiveness, its integrality. Syria’s National Film Organization in 1972 was interested in stories of class oppression, because such stories were constituent to the school of social realism that a professedly socialist (a constitutionally secular socialist state) government sanctioned. It was also interested in stories about Palestinian struggle, an extension of the state’s broadcast and much trumpeted support and sponsorship of Palestinian resistance. The National Film Organization’s site indicates that of the sixteen films produced by it during the 1970s, six related topically to the Palestinian experience. Also notable is that fourteen of the sixteen credited the director as screenwriter (In most cases, such is in the case of The Dupes, the director was the sole credited screenwriter.)2

Ghassan KanafaniGhassan Kanafani was himself a Palestinian refugee. Although he spent most of his boyhood in Yafa (Java), he was born in Akka (Aker) in 1936 and it was from Akka that he and his family fled Palestine, after the first attack on the city, in April of 1948. The family eventually settled in Damascus where he became involved with the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), upon his introduction to the group’s founder George Habash, who would exert a marked influence over the development of Kanafani’s own ideas of resistance, liberation, and self-determination for the Palestinian people. In 1955, Kanafani moved to Kuwait, a location that would figure mightily in Men in the Sun. In 1962, having moved to Beirut, Kanafani wrote the operative novella, his first. Its staunch repudiation of escapism and call for self-reliance foresaw the disappointment and dejection in Nasserism/Pan-Arabism, after the ignominious defeat of the 1967 War. Indeed, Habash would found the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) that very year and Kanafani would two years later found the organization’s publication Al-Hadaf in Beirut, for which he served as editor until his assassination in 1972 by a car bomb, near certainly planted by the Mossad3. Kanafani did watch The Dupes, released earlier that year, according to Salem who reports having freighted a copy of the film personally by car, from Damascus to Beirut.4

Tawfiq SalehIf Kanafani’s productivity had been cut short by his death then so was Tawfiq Saleh’s—by career death. In total, Saleh directed a mere seven narrative features between the years of 1955 and 1980, of which I have seen five. Saleh had made his narrative feature debut with Fools’ Alley, a film whose screenplay he had co-written with Najib Mahfouz, a film whose ironic realism was admired, though not at the box office.4 According to Saleh, it was his second film that won him the admiration of Nasser himself, who upon watching Struggle of the Heroes, had suddenly agreed to nationalize the film industry, having publicly resisted for three years. The second time Nasser would bear upon a film of Saleh’s the latter had already grown wary of Nasser’s regime, not least because the film in question, his fifth Diary of a Country Prosecutor (which I aim to write about soon), one of five on whose scripts he would work over the course of his career, was shot in 1968, in the wake of the startling and deflating defeat of Egypt in the 1967 War. According to Saleh, the film’s release had been held up by the minister of interior, who had formed a committee to look into which content ought be censored. Then, upon learning of this and having seemingly watched Diary, Nasser insisted that the film be released in full.5

Saleh’s exasperation came to a head with the censoring and criticism of his fourth film Mister Balti, shot in 1967, but released in ’68, the same year as Diary. Salem took offense and soon thereafter, having had his proposal to make a film based on Men in the Sun rejected by the Egyptian General Organization (the state operated TV, radio and film production outfit), proposed the project to Syria’s National Film Organization. Saleh must have noted the suitability of his proposed project to the production interests of the Organization, considering the organization’s putatively nationalist, social realist persuasion, officially dubbed Alternative Cinema. He would make one more film, an Iraqi state production dubbed Long Days, in 1980. Soon thereafter, Saleh returned to Egypt where he still lives in Cairo.6

The Dupes is exceedingly faithful to the novella, except in two ways that I will later dwell on. Like the novella, the film is formed in two parts, the first involves the background of three impoverished Palestinians, readily representative of three generations of refugees, who journey from their diaspora communities (refugee camps in the case of at least two) to Shatt al-Arab in southern Iraq, with the intention of getting smuggled into nearby Kuwait, where they hope to locate work and opportunity to alley the various conditions of desperation they aspire to overcome. These backstories are presented convincingly, as memories being recalled by triggers, mostly during dialogue with the head of a an Iraqi smuggling outfit that all three men visit before deciding to take the risk of their lives in being smuggled in a water truck, driven by a soliciting competitor to the Iraqi smuggler, a Palestinian expat named  Abul-khaizaran. The men do not choose Abul-khaizaran because he's Palestinian, but because his rate is ten dinars each, five less than that of his competitor.

The Dupes (1972)The Wages of Fear (1953)

The second part (about half) of the film involves the smuggling adventure. The three men (I hesitate for a moment to call sixteen year-old Marwan a man) agree to be smuggled by Abul-khaizaran in the tank of the water truck that he must drive back to its owner, his employer, in Kuwait. This second part does tell Abul-khaizaran’s story, but mainly focuses on the hellish experience of Abu Qais, As’ad and Marwan, intermittently hiding in the suffocating water tank, smoldering in the August sun. It is in this second half, mostly linear narrative driven, that Saleh’s compositional mastery shines. In their blindingly bright starkness, the images of the wretched smuggled and the equally doomed Abul-khaizaran on a decrepit capsule rolling the sands of hell have haunted me. The suspense generated by the adventure, whose participants I had come to care about, edited expertly by Saheb Haddad, engaged me thoroughly. Soon after the men embarked on their perilous journey, I recalled the frenzied and futile adventure in Clouzot’s masterpiece The Wages of Fear. If Saleh hadn’t been inspired by it then it must have been because he had not seen it. Saleh had concluded his stay in France at the end of 1953, year of the French thriller’s release.7

The Dupes (1972)The Wages of Fear (1953)If there is an advantage to watching The Dupes in its current deteriorated state of photography and sound (it begs for restoration more than any other Arab film I’ve seen), it is the relative agreement between live action and archival still footage in a montage of the two early in the film. This montage mostly depicts Palestinian displacement then settlement in refugee camps in 1948, the Nakba into which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been plunged (or had plunged, as Kanafani might have preferred to see it), accompanied by a mournful expository narration. This review of Palestinian modern history does not exist in the novella, and considering that the footage depicts Farouq I of Egypt, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud of Saudi Arabia and multiple Hashemite monarchs, as the accompanying narration turns to decrying the treachery of Arab regimes, I wondered if this montage may have well been the only condition that the National Film Organization had attached to the production. Expectedly, the brazen accusations of betraying the Palestinian people would limit the film’s exposure, which Saleh has since lamented, expressing that The Dupes was the film that had marked his maturation as a director.8 Tawfiq Saleh may have known that his film would speak for a regime as self-serving and oppressive as the one he had escaped, but at least the Syrians didn’t tacitly require installation of a couple of song and dance numbers, which appear in all four Egyptian films of his that I have seen, including inexplicably in the one that had escaped the censor’s scissors—Diary of a Country Prosecutor. They also (spoiler alert) didn’t require the harrowing ending be altered to something more hopeful than written. The ending, in fact, involves the second marked departure from the novella.

The Dupes (1972)The Wages of Fear (1953)Allegorical themes in Men in the Sun, which I have read, are mostly preserved in The Dupes: complicity and treachery of Arabs, including Palestinians themselves, against Palestinian liberation and self-determination; the futility of escapism and the imperative to stand to aggression through conscious and active resistance; the loss of land as tantamount to the loss of manhood; and the championing of secular resistance. Yet, other than the interpolation of the facile and manipulative montage discussed earlier, Saleh altered the novella’s ending, (spoiler alert) wherein Kanafani mentions nothing of a struggle by the characters in the tank against the murderous heat that the three had to endure. Having dispensed of the men’s bodies at a rubbish collection location then redoubled to take their valuables, Kanafani ends the novella by having an overwrought Abul-khaizaran repeatedly cry, “Why didn’t you bang on the walls?”

Addressing the alteration to the ending, Saleh has remarked that Kanafani in his novella is saying that the people in the tank die without resisting.9 In the film, because of Saleh’s seeming disapproval of Kanafani’s fatalism, sounds of banging against the walls of the tank are heard, while Abul-khaizaran pleads and cajoles a Kuwaiti customs agent to stamp his papers. Moreover, Saleh makes the last shot of the film one of a stiff extended hand curled as if to knock.

I disagree with Saleh’s assumption that Kanafani denied his characters the will to resist. Just because something is not depicted in the plot, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen in the story. I qualify that Kanafani wouldn’t have cared to portray resistance from the characters in the tank, because he would have deemed their resistance at that point not merely futile, but inconsequential. As far as Kanafani was concerned, the three characters’ lives and their will to resist had been doomed as soon as they had signed up to escape their realities as landless refugees and their imperative to resist.

The much debated discrepancy in the endings of the two works notwithstanding; there is evident parallelism between the lives of Kanafani and Saleh. Yet, what is special about The Dupes is that this parallelism between the lives of author and director, notable as it is, is surpassed in the pathos of the parallelism between the lives of Saleh and the principal characters in his film. In an interview several years ago, Saleh lamented not having been able to work in Egypt since his return from Iraq in the early 80s: “Perpetually, I am a stranger, a stranger and this is my fate … I mean that I am in a society of which I approve, but which doesn’t approve of me. What do you do?”10 If Saleh’s career has been doomed because he is a stranger in his own society then the characters in The Duped are doomed because they are compelled to live as strangers in societies to which they could never belong.

*The Dupes is available in the US through Arab Film Distribution. 

The Dupes (1972)The Wages of Fear (1953)

Words Cited

1. Shafik, Viola. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 1998. 155. Print.

2. The General Organization for Cinema. The National Film Organization, 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2012. <>. 

3. Kanafani, Adnan. Ghassan Kanafani: Pages Were Turned (in Arabic). 3rd ed. N.p.: Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Institute, 2001. N. pag. Adnan Kanafani's Website. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.<>.

4. Ibrahim, Bashar. "Ghassan Kanafani ... Cinematically." Al-Kuwait Magazine. Al-Kuwait Magazine, 25 July 2010. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <>.

5. "Tawfiq Saleh: The Cinema and the Failures of the Egyptian Revolution (in Arabic)." Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera, 26 May 2006. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. < D0E68F025C32.htm>.

6. Saleh, Tawfiq. "Tawfiq Saleh to [Al-Jazeera] Documentary: My Most Significant Films Are Without a Screenplay (in Arabic)." Interview by Samira Mazahi. Al-Jazeera Documentary. Al-Jazeera Documentary, 26 Jan. 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. < 2009122104148533299.html>.

7. D Weefi, Mohsen. The Cinema of Tawfiq Saleh (in Arabic). N.p.: The Cultural Development Fund, [c. 1998]. Digital Assets Repository. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <>.

8. See reference # 5

9. See reference # 5

10. See reference # 5


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