Film program

This program presents a selection of works by Egyptian filmmaker Tawfiq Saleh (Alexandria, 1927), one of the representatives of modern Arabic anti-colonial intelligentsia. The films have been selected by North American artist of Palestinian descent Fareed Armaly, who is preparing a documentary on Saleh's most influential film Al-maidu'un (1972). It was the first feature film to constructs modern fiction in the context of the drama of Palestinian refugees, who it portrays as protagonists of their own history. In the opening lecture, Armaly will offer an analysis of the film, illustrated by extracts from recent interviews with the director. In order to show the evolution that culminated in the exceptional Al-maidu'n, subsequent sessions will consist of screenings of other films by Saleh, made between 1955 and 1968.

"Tawfik Saleh's film Al-makhdu'un (The Dupes) is the first feature film to come out of the Arab film world that portrays Palestinian refugees as the protagonists of their own story. The renowned original novella on which the film is based (Men in the Sun, Gassan Kanafani, 1962) had tackled this issue within the literary form, spurring on the newly coined 'resistance literature' genre. While Saleh's film adaptation stays true to the novella's poetics with its complex literary flashback form, he makes one small but paramount change. This change introduces a radically different implication to the original narrative, an implication that is intended to serve as a reflection of the transformative decade that separates the novella and the film. It also offers some insight into the Egyptian director's perspective in the early seventies, by which time he was living outside of Egypt and had finished with his Egyptian period and the genre of realism that he had helped to formulate. In Syria, he envisages a new (post-Nasser) condition: a modern, Arab political consciousness in which, Saleh believes, the desire for self-determination represented by the new Palestinian resistance movements plays a central role. The film, like the novella, does not rely on any protagonist-hero to identify with and lead to a clear resolution. As cinema it is not realism but a kind of hybrid, with narrative routes that lead audiences through the cinematic equivalent of diasporic identity: layers of documentary footage situate 1948 and authentic refugee camps; subjective flashbacks offer fragments recollecting home relations and the recognisable signs of conventional Arab melodrama; the 'road movie' becomes a stark modern existentialist parable in the form of a passage locked in the no-man's-land between national borders; the final act amounts to a light farce, where two divergent positions—Palestinian and customs officials—eventually converge and culminate in the tragic conclusion.
My interest in Al-makhdu'un can be traced back to the preparation for my project From/To, which was presented in Witte de With in 1999 (when Bartomeu Marí was director) and then in 2002 in Documenta 11. As the exhibition catalogue states, the focus was on charting a 'topos Palestine' and 'a map unfolding in real time', 'geography as nothing but history in space' and 'the replacement of roots with routes'. With precisely these characteristics in mind, I realised at the planning stages that Al-makhdu'un was a central feature of the project. This was primarily because the hybrid nature of the film itself offers up a complex set of points of convergence from many lines relating to the issue of Palestine, politics of identity, the role of culture, methodology and narrative and the time period.
One of the unfortunate points that I discovered during research for the project in the late nineties was that there was very little information available on the film, and on Saleh's generation of Arab filmmakers in general, and even less in English. The same applies to getting hold of a good copy to purchase or screen. After the conclusion of From/To, this absence of material led me to consider developing a new work that took off from that lack of archival material on Al-makhdu'un. The first stage was to conduct a video interview with the director Tawfik Saleh, and particularly an analysis of Al-makhdu'un. Excerpts of this interview, in which Saleh directly comments on the film sequences he discusses, will be included in this presentation. The other, final, stage of the work focuses on the one key change Saleh made to the film as a way to provide an opening into this historical work—both film and book—in order to introduce the new space of a contemporary perspective."

Fareed Armaly

With the support of the Egyptian Film Center, and the Egyptian Embassy in Spain and the Spanish Embassy in Egypt

With de support of:


February 17 and 24, and March 3 and 10, at 7 pm

Wednesday February 17
Introduction to the program and lecture by Fareed Armaly.

Wednesday February 24
Al-makhdu'un (The Dupes, 1972)
Set in the 1950s, this is the story of three Palestinian refugees from different generations and different perspectives who want to go to Kuwait, a city which is at the height of an oil boom and a «promised land», where they hope to find work and begin a new life. Their paths converge at Basra (Iraq), near the border.

Wednesday March 3
Al-mutamarridun (The Rebels, made in 1966, released in 1968)
A doctor who is ill is admitted into an isolated clinic in the middle of a desolate desert. Although the context seems to indicate that it is a centre for the treatment of tuberculosis, a certain ambivalence tinges everything and suggests that it may be a place for the confinement of people who are not considered healthy from the political point of view. The doctor is one of them.

Wednesday March 10
Dar al-mahabil (Fool's Alley, 1955)
A young worker buys his fiancé a lottery ticket that turns out to be the winning number. The couple desperately need money, because the young man earns very little in the bicycle workshop where he works. The girl's father, a religious man, warns his daughter that Islam prohibits games of chance and she throws the away the ticket, which is picked up by a madman. Several locals use different strategies to try to get their hands on the prize money
Wednesday March 17
Yawmiyat na'ib fi-l-aryaf (Diary of a Country Prosecutor, 1968)
Based on a homonymous novel by Tawfiq al-Hakim, this comedy of errors is presented as the diary of a young prosecutor posted in a village in Egypt. Steeped in the ideals of a European education, the prosecutor clashes with a world in which the imported legal system seems alien and incomprehensible.

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Son[i]a #98 Fareed Armaly