There’s A Man in Our House — Egypt

We’re familiar enough with movies about daring resistance fighters in wars or to oppressive regimes –if they are French, Spanish, British, American, Norwegian, for example.  If Egyptian, not a clue.  Not a clue about much of Egypt after the Pyramids for most of us, unless it is that Napoleon brought his armies and archeologists there.  There is much more of a story to be told, of course, and many stories could be told to get at the larger one.


Henry Barakat’s 1961 A Man in Our House, tells one such story, very much in the European style.  Using the 1952 Free Officers led revolt against King Farouk as the context, a  brave young man hurls himself against the unjust government — Omar Sharif, as Ibrahim,  assassinates the Prime Minister– and has to go into hiding in the house of ambivalently supportive citizens.  His presence endangers the whole family, particularly since they are not as partisan as he is.  The father has to make difficult decisions about how much can be risked, and is pulled out of his a-political stance by his son and daughter, the maternal feelings of his wife for the young man, and her empathy with the likely worries of his mother.  There are several good scenes arguing and worrying over what being caught would imply.  And, despite the danger [or because of it?] Ibrahim falls in love with the daughter, who reciprocates and gets drawn into dangerous message carrying.  Love is always a problem for militancy, of course and he is pulled in the two directions of safety and sacrifice.  That’s the movie, in a nut-shell.  Contrary to the happy ending possibilities of such stories, Sharif decides his place is with the resistance fighters, and in a desperate attack on the Army Barracks manages to ignite the ammunition storage, destroying the base, and himself.

Filmed in black and white, with decent sub-titles and good story line it’s worth watching.  The relations in a “good middle class family” of Egypt of the 50s are on display.  The sense of fear for the young woman on the street by herself will grip everyone, and not just because of her role as a messenger.  Even though she could go out uncovered, in a conventional 1950s skirt, the fact that everyone else in the street and in the cars are men, makes us realize how precarious her situation is.  When Sharif masquerades as a taxi driver to be able to talk to her we are almost knocked off balance by the audacity:  this is not New York City of the same decade, where young women regularly went to work and took taxis.   Sharif, young and beautiful, is persuasive as a young militant — though his deference to the wishes of the father, and willingness to keep running, have an oddly obsequious note, probably only to western ears.

Barakat was an old hand in the Egyptian film business when he directed this, his 37th film.  The lighting, camera work, claustrophobia of the small house, the realistic sense of the dialog [of course we’re seeing a reduced version in the sub-titles] are all marks of this.  He was also the credited screen writer for some 18 movies, though this is not among them.  [His Curlew’s Cry was reviewed here a few weeks ago.]  The ad-hoc nature of the militants’ attacks will strike most of us as unrealistic, not something likely to topple entrenched power [he killed the Prime Minister without a safe house to go to?] Presumably, the film-time needed to be spent with the family, and their representation of other civilians in such times, rather than on the organizing prowess of the militias.    The pyrotechnics at the end however, will impress, even in black and white.


And, for added interest, the screen play [if not an entire novel, it’s unclear] was written by Abdel Qoddous, a well known opposition journalist of the era, and much called-upon screen writer.

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