Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Filmgoers are flocking again to Egypt’s cinemas after a successful Eid Al-Adha season, in a sign of a comeback for the industry which has been experiencing a lull since Egypt’s 2011 revolution with falling box office receipts and complaints from critics about the quality of the films released.
Since 2011, the box office decline has also extended to the Eid Al-Adha season, traditionally a lucrative time for the Egyptian movie industry, which releases a slew of films, usually of the comedic or light-hearted variety, during the three-day holiday, when Egyptians throng the streets of urban centers like Downtown Cairo, eager to watch the latest cinematic offerings from the “Hollywood of the Arab world.”
Observers trace the decline in the industry during the last few years to the general unstable political and economic environment in the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Others have cited specific phenomena for the decline, whether a dip in the quality of the films produced, the security vacuum during the last few years, or the increase in incidences of sexual harassment, which tend to spike during the Eid holiday.
Some of this year’s films broke with the Eid mold, however, eschewing song-and-dance routines and slapstick comedy for serious stories tackling some of the main social issues and problems that have emerged since the revolution.
Drawing in 6.5 million Egyptian pounds (910,000 US dollars) during the three-day holiday, the top-grossing film of this year’s Eid Al-Adha was The Island II, the sequel to the box office smash of 2007. Starring the “tough guy” of Egyptian cinema, Ahmed El-Sakka, the film charts the story of a large rural family who operate a drugs empire from Upper Egypt, one of the country’s most restive and violent regions.
Again set in Upper Egypt, Wahed Sa’idi (An Upper Egyptian), was the second-ranked film at the box office during this year’s Eid season, grossing over 4.2 million pounds (590,000 dollars) at the box office. The film, which tells the story of a young man from the region, played by up-and-coming star Mohamed Ramadan, is a comedy, but also depicts the prejudice and marginalization suffered by Upper Egyptians, especially at the hands of the government.
Coming third this year was comedy musical Omar and Salwa, raking in over 3 million pounds (420,000 dollars) at the box office during the three-day holiday. The film was, however, expected to lead the pack this year, being standard Eid-season fare and the latest offering from successful producer Ahmed El-Sobky, whose song-, dance-, and comedy-infused films have performed consistently at the box office in recent years, often topping the list of those released during Eid. Starring Karim Mahmoud, son of famous Egyptian actor Mahmoud Abdelaziz, the film also contains a cameo by popular Armenian bellydancer, Safinaz, whose comical Egyptian accent was a hit with audiences.
Veteran 1970s and 1980s actress Mervat Amin made a cinematic comeback this year in My Mother-in-Law Loves Me, where she plays the titular role. The film, which co-stars pop singer Hamada Helal, veteran comic actor Samir Ghanem, and actress Eman Al-Assi ranked fourth during the week, taking in 1.02 million pounds (143,000 dollars).
Among the most prominent films still showing in Egyptian cinemas is The Blue Elephant, adapted from the novel of the same name by bestselling author Ahmed Mourad. The film, directed by Marwan Hamed—who also directed the 2007 film adaptation of Alaa El-Aswani’s bestseller The Yacoubian Building—achieved the “holy grail” of cinematic success, proving a hit with both audiences and critics. The film, which is set in a psychiatric hospital, has garnered much praise for the quality of its production and direction, and, like Hamed’s other film adaptation of a successful novel, the way it tackles traditionally taboo subjects.