Days and Nights


Director: Henry Barakat
Year: 1955
Rating: 7.5
Country: Egypt

Last week I watched my first film from Egypt and enjoyed it so much that I ordered a few more from what is termed the Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema, the 1940's till the end of the 1950's. After that Nasser nationalized the film industry and it quickly went downhill as those things generally do. From what I can gather, most films were quite conventional, contained moral lessons and had happy endings. Many of them also had music and Days and Nights (Ayam Ou Layali) had all of this plus a lot of glamour and style. With the many songs popping up the film reminded me of Bollywood films during the same period - great black and white photography and a thick layer of Western elements throughout. Directed by Henry Barakat (who directed loads of films in his lifetime, 1912 - 1997) in 1955, it stars one of Egypt's legendary male singers, Abdel Halim Hafez (1929 - 1977), and his mellow singing style is terrific - sort of an Egyptian Perry Como. One song Ana Lak Ala toul is pure lush romance - later I found out it is a classic. Another song Toba (Never Again) is so catchy I had to watch it several times.

It is a simple romance from which basic moral questions arise - what is more important, your loyalty to your family or holding to your principles. Yehia is brought up by a step-father who married his mother after she divorced her husband for his drinking problems. Though there is no great love between Yehia and his step-father, he is given a good upper middle class upbringing with an education in university. One day while rowing, he spots Samia (the stunning Iman, a Lebanese actress) on her balcony and immediately knows she is the girl for him and so begins to woo her the old fashioned way - through song from below. All appears headed for a happy ending until Yehia's no good older step-brother who likes his booze and his belly dancers in that order kills someone in a hit and run car accident. The police think the offender is Yehia's friend and so Yehia who was in the car is then faced with a delimma - turn in his brother and destroy his family or watch his friend be ruined. Not that I need to get into yet another film industry (and there doesn't seem to be all that much available anyway with subs), but this was a really enjoyable glimpse into another time and another place that feels very much to have vanished.

Written up 01/2010