Cinematic adaptations of Naguib Mahfouz analysed by critics

Ahram Online, Monday 14 Nov 2011

According to critics, Mexican cinema captured Mahfouz's literature more profoundly than its Egyptian counterpart

Naguib Mahfouz

According the German news agency DPA, some film critics say Mexican cinema is more truthful in capturing the literature of late Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz than its Egyptian counterpart.

Naguib Mahfouz was close to cinema; one Lebanese critic called him “the novelist of the filmmakers and the filmmaker of novelists”. Many of his book were adapted to films, and even re-adapted.

In 1964, director Hossam Eldin Moustafa gave us Al-Tareeq (The Road), which was re-adapted in the film Wasmet Aar (Shame) by Ashraf Fahmy in 1986. Fahmy also directed Leil We Khawana (Night and Traitors), which adapted the novel Al-Liss Wal Kelab (The Thief and the Dogs).

Another version of El-Liss Wal Kelab is the 60s version of director Kamal El-Sheikh.

Mexican cinema has produced two adaptations, the first, The Beginning and the End, by Arturo Ripstein, and Midaq Alley by Jorge Fons.

In a study in the book Cinematic Naguib Mahfouz, critic Al-Ariss says that Ripstein did not face any hardship adapting the works of Mahfouz. He added that Mahfouz hinted that the Mexican fillmaker understood his work more than any Egyptian upon watching Ripstein’s film.

At the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which took place last month and celebrated 100 years since the birth of Mahfouz, a 160-page book was released including studies and articles about the novelist. The writer of The Beginning and the End, Paz Alicia Garciadiego, said that upon reading Mahfouz's novel she fell in love with it and suggested to her husband, Ripstein, that he make the film, since she felt that Mahfouz was closer to her than any author from her own country.

She added in an article entitled "Mahfouz, Links from the Other Side," that she adapted works of French writer Guy de Mauppasant and the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and no-one was surprised, yet when she adapted the works of an Egyptian, things were different.

“It is infuriating that people were surprised I am adapting a work by an Egyptian, and I think that relates to the imperialistic mode of thinking,” she wrote.

The Egyptian critic Kamal Ramzy said that the Mexican film Midaq Alley is closer to Naguib’s world than the Egyptian version by Hassan El-Imam and that Salma Hayek understood the character of Hamida more than Egyptian actress Shadia. He added that some Egyptian actors have really shined in their roles and some had their careers take a new direction, like Sanaa Gamil, after appearing in The Beginning and the End.

Ramzy also documented the statement of actor Mahmoud Morsy, who played Abdel Gawad in the television series Bein El-Kasreen (Palace Walk), in which he compares his own performance to that of Yehia Chahine, who played the same character in the trilogy of Mahfouz.

Morsy said: “Without humility or arrogance, I say that I have lost in front of Yehia Chahine in capturing the role of Abdel Gawad, while I was trying hard to find El-Gawad, El-Gawad was looking for Chahine. I do not think that anyone can embody the character of El-Gawad as well as he did for many generations to come."

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