The Yacoubian Building

The Yacoubian Building


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Yacoubian building is one of Cairo's most famous pieces of architecture. Built to rival the stately Victorian apartment buildings of Paris and London, it stands at an intersection in the busy city, a place around which all life revolves. But times have changed since it was built. Now the former storage rooms on the roof have become a displaced urban village where the servants of the rich crowd in, a family per room, their chickens running through the alleyways. This film follows their lives and those of their rich neighbours, exploring their conflicts and their common problems as a microcosm of modern Egyptian life.

The Yacoubian Building arrives in the UK having already broken box office records in its native land. It has proven immensely popular despite tackling taboo themes such as homosexuality and Islamic fundamentalism. At nearly three hours long it often comes across more like a soap opera than a movie, but its richly drawn characters and the confident way it handles situations which could easily disintegrate into melodrama place it in a class of its own.

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The tales it tells are not simple stories with comfortable solutions - it's full of messy loose ends, frustration and dissatisfaction - deliberately so. Here we see the problems caused by clashing ideologies, poverty, entrenched police brutality and government corruption and exploitation at many different levels. We also see the unnecessary ways in which people struggling to cope make life harder for one another. Yet the lives of these people are not without moments of real beauty, and the film carries us through them in poetic style.

The Yacoubian Building pulls no punches when telling its tales, and the characters we meet here all have their moments of weakness, their moments of being tempted to do wrong. Some give in, whilst others struggle to retain a dignity essential to their sense of self.

Elegantly framed shots of the building's sumptuous interiors contrast with ugly close-ups of violence and grief. Overall, the tone of the film is positive - though it speaks of a world which has in some way disintegrated, it offers a variety of solutions. However, not every character will make it that far. The sense we are left with is that their individual lives, for all that the actors make us care about them, are most important on another level, as elements of the life of the building itself, and of Egypt. This is a brave and complex film which may be too much for the casual cinema-goer but which will delight those willing to stay the distance.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2007
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Examination of Egyptian society as seen through the eyes of tenants in Cairo.
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Director: Marwan Hamed

Writer: Wahid Hamid, based on the novel by Alaa' Al-Aswany

Starring: Adel Imam, Nour El-Sherif, Youssra, Essad Youniss, Ahmed Bedir, Hend Sabri, Khaled El Sawy, Mohamed Imam, Bassem Samra, Somaya El Khashab

Year: 2006

Runtime: 172 minutes

Country: Egypt


London 2006

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