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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2008
Two summers ago while I was binge reading international literature I was led to a book titled The Yacoubian Building by Alaa el-Aswany, an Egyptian dentist. Written in Arabic in 2002, with an English translation in 2004, it is an incredible book. It is set in Cairo in the early 1990's. My initial interest was that it was reported to be the first Egyptian best-seller with a gay main character, and even a gay bar. It is so much more.

Last night (2/16/2008) I watched the movie version of the book, now available with English subtitles. They did a remarkable job of faithfully bringing this vast and complicated story to screen.

The character Taha, led to fundamentalist extremism by the corruption and despair of the day, should be of most interest to an American audience, his movie portrayal being neither harsh, nor sympathetic, just a representation of a generation, as a defining statement of fact.

The characters of Zaki and Haj serve to put the story into a historical perspective that is unknown to most in the West, yet with a plotline of political corruption that should be universally recognized by any student of history.

There are several main characters who are women, reflecting the entire spectrum of personal emancipation. Yet, I could not begin to analyze the story from a feminist perspective; there is just too much material there for me to digest.

My one and only criticism of the movie is its portrayal of the gay character, Hatim Rasheed, a newspaper editor. Apparently, to not make the movie even longer than it is, developing the Hatim role is shortchanged to give viewers only the sensational, an error not made in el-Aswany's book.

That said, the book and the movie should be on the reading list for those of us confused and anguished by the Islamic world - it is not an answer, but it partial explanation.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2008
If you have any interest in modern Egyptian or Middle Eastern culture, you really should see this film if you haven't already. The movie is based on the best selling novel of the same name published in Egypt several years earlier. The residents of the Yacoubian building are intended to be a microcosm of modern Egyptian society and covers most of the significant themes and problems in Egyptian life today, with a profound sense of nostalgia for the more cosmopolitan Cairo of pre-Nasser Egypt. Many of these themes are highly controversial, such as homosexuality, and couldn't even be mentioned in most other Middle Eastern countries. One of the main characters falls into the arms of radical Islam out of utter dispair. You'll get a much better understanding of that here than you'll ever get from Syriana. The acting is top notch.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2008
I purchased this film with apprehension, upon request of many of my friends to see it.I am an Italian born in that era of post Nasser ism,and decided to follow the advise of my friends.
At first I thought it was going to be a boring movie, with some vulgarities.Moving along with the film I began to see issues that have never been seen in the Egypt that I lived.I left Egypt in 1974.Homosexuality,and other issues of this film were taboo in those days.It seems no more,which I think it is better than being in the closet.
The religious fanaticism was something that I never saw as clear as in this movie.I am a Catholic therefore going to the mosque was not something I did.It is very interesting as to how they recruit young people.Very smart,searching for those people who have been let down by society.
The old Pasha days are gone of course.The cleanliness of the country,the freedom,the society itself.And yet with all that is said and done Egyptian people are very kind hearted and friendly.The movie also tells the story of a young sales girl what she has to do to get a couple of pounds extra.That I am not sure it is true, but it could be.People are struggling all across the country until today.If you want to follow more as to what is going on in Egypt read the El Ahram newspaper online.I enjoyed seeing this movie very much as many of us born in Egypt and leaving overseas rekindle the days that were,and will never come again.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2010
If you are ever going to take an interest in Egyptian or even Arabic film you may want to start with this one. Some may argue look at some of the "Classics" But I have found a great many of those are either poor imitations of Western films or so over the top they are just simply hard to sit through for a Western audience. This film however is very different.

Based upon the book of the same name by in my opinion one of the best writers currently out there in the Arab world its the story of the various people who inhabit the Yacoubian Building. In some ways its a microcosm of Egypt itself (I have no doubt thats what the author intended) All the lives of the people are somehow interwoven while at the same time sepparate in their own little way. Apparently this film was quite revolutionary when it came out because it was one of the few times that a homosexual Arab was shown in an Arab movie (That being one who was not a comedy sidekick or something) So to the characters. We have the wealthy "Pasha" Who has inherited land and lives a hedonistic life of drink and picking up women in whatever bar he can. Old enough to know better but has little else to do with his life. His sister, bitter at life and resentful of her brother who at least accecpts who he is and makes the most of if. A newspaper editor who at the same time is a homosexual who has to find partners amongst the undesirables of Egypt who soon falls in love with a night watchman who he moves in with his family to the roof of the building. Also on the roof is a young man and lady who are promised to be married whose lives soon take different directions one turning to God after his rejection from the police and another finding that a single woman trying to work in Egypt is easier said than done and last of all a wealthy Egyptian Islamist who is now seeking political power.

I am sure there will be some who will find complaint with the characters shown in this film but anyone who has lived in the Middle East can vouch for the corruption shown in this film and also for much of the misogynist behaviour in it not to mention to schizophrenic attitude to homosexuality. The characters are shown in a very sympathetic light even the young mans movement to religious extremism something highly unusual even in Western film almost unheard of in Arabic film. I found the acting in this film quite good. For the most part I thought many of the characters carried off the books characters quite well and I very quickly found myself identifying with the characters I had read in the novel with those I was now seeing on screen. In fact what I would recommend is that you read the novel first and then watch the film. As a few previous reviewers have pointed out the film does change slightly from the book but I dont think it does too much that it would seriously detract from the film.

All in all I highly enjoyed this film and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to really get to know Arab society.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2011
To this date, "The Yacoubian Building" has had the highest movie budget out of any Egyptian movie ever produced, and I'd say their money was well spent. Based on the bestselling novel as well as a real building, the film follows the lives of about 8 Egyptians of various socioeconomic backgrounds, and the hardships they face as they try to make a living in downtown Cairo.

I read the book first, and I would recommend others to read it too before they watch the film. Since the book explores the characters' lives and thoughts in depth, you're able to identify with them better when you read about them first. Of course, parts are cut out in the film so that the movie doesn't run all day, but all the important parts of the story have been adapted into the film. The only differences I noticed between the movie and the book were that the characters' lives intertwined with one another more in the movie, and Hatim's story ends a little differently.

Many of the working class characters fell into their circumstances because of their lack of economic opportunities. Those who do get the chance to move upward often end up moving out of Egypt. While I sympathized with many of the characters, I felt especially sorry for Taha, the smart young man who ended up becoming a fundamentalist. I don't approve of his choice, but it was just sad that he wouldn't have ended up doing what he did if he had gotten the job position he deserved.

Before I saw this movie and read the book, I didn't really understand the causes behind the Egyptian Revolution that happened earlier this year. I think this is a very important movie to watch for those who want to understand Egyptian, or even Third World, politics and society better. It's a shame that the DVD didn't include any commentary because I would have loved to see it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2008
I enjoyed this movie a lot. It truely reflects how society changed over time in Eygpt. It also reflects the real life in Eygpt more than any other Eygption movie.

The acting is excellent. All aspects of of it are great. Serious Comedy. No body should miss the oppotunity to watch it.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2009
In the late 1990s, I asked an Egyptian doctor, "Is Egypt going through a sexual revolution?" The 40-year-old doctor taught Salsa dancing and refused to be interviewed by a TV journalist doing a report on Salsa because he didn't want his parents to know of his sinful past-time. It wasn't only sinful Salsa dancing that cued me. I knew of students at the American University in Cairo who would sneak into their family's summer homes to have unlawful relations with girlfriends. An Egyptian colleague at the university was doing his Sociology dissertation on Egyptian male prostitutes in Sharm al Shaik on the Red Sea coast, providing services for European women.
This all characterized my evening friends. While my mornings were spent with the rowing teams on the other side of the Nile. There, women were not permitted to wear sleeveless T-shirts while exercising and the biggest debate was on which rowing clothing would permit women to respect the veil while competing for their university rowing team. On that side of the Nile, my teammates stopped practice to pray as a group on mats outside the boathouse.
This movie captures all these contradictions and more. During the three years I lived in Egypt, I danced salsa frequently with Egyptians and Latinos on boats that roamed around the Nile at night. We danced on the upper deck under the stars and it was heavenly. Then one day, the newspaper announced that one of these night Nile-going ships was a gay bar and hundreds were arrested for their "sinful" conduct.
All these memories flooded back as I watched this fictional movie that reflects the real tensions and cultural confusion in Cairo. It's a marvelous movie.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2009
I read the book by the same title and was so impressed that I bought it.
Most films made from a book are less than impressive, but this one is true to the book in spirit and in fact. The acting is excellent, I bought this DVD because the film will probably never be shown in our cinemas, more's the pitty, because just to see Cairo in its inner workings, according to the author, is fascinating. I never saw this DVD in rental stores, buy and enjoy it and watch it over and over, it is an interesting film.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2008
For someone who knows Cairo and Alexandria, as a foreigner, the story told here of different levels of society and their intrigues, successes, and failures it is a fascinating and compelling film.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 12, 2009
As an Egyptian who has long given up on the quality and substance of Egyptian films, I was pleasantly surprised to see this movie. The production quality was superb and the acting was good (not stellar; just good.) The characters are embodied well by the actors. They are believable as well as sympathetic. For that, I give the film 5 stars.

However, I was very disappointed at the clichéd portrayals of the homosexual character in the film. I don't want to give the story away, but suffice it to say, the character's story concludes with a sad cliché that plays to the moral norm in the Egyptian society more than its reality.

This version of the film has English subtitles and the DVD packaging is somewhat lacking. I was hoping for a decent booklet inside the case, but instead I got a single sheet of the poster on one side and a blank white page on the back of it.

Again, it's leaps and bounds better than any Arabic film I've seen in a long time. Well done.
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The Yacoubian Building: A Novel
The Yacoubian Building: A Novel by ʻAlāʾ Aswānī (Paperback - August 1, 2006)

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