Thartharah fawqa al-Nīl (Adrift on the Nile) (1971)
Director: Hussein Kamal.
Starring: Adel Adham (Ali), Magda El-Khatib(Samara), Salah Nazmi, Soheir Ramzy (Layla), Mervat Amin (Sana), Imad Hamdi (Anis), Ahmed Ramzy (Ragab).
criticism of the Gamal Abdel Nasser period and its censorship of artistic expression
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
TAn older man named Aniss Zaki works at the Ministry of Health. He absolutely hates his job. He prefers to be stoned most of the time and writes all his reports when he is stoned. His robotic actions, however, were discovered when he wrote his report as he always did, but failed to notice that his pen had run out of ink a quarter of the way through the report. Aniss gets scolded by the general manager.
Aniss runs into Ragab, an actor, who scores some hashish. Ragab remembers him from twenty years ago when they lived in the same neighborhood. He asks Aniss to come with him to see the "Kingdom". They pass a newspaper stand with headlines like "Fighting Resumed at the Front" and "Heavy Artillery Bombing for Seven Hours". On a houseboat referred to as the "Kingdom" Ragab introduces Aniss to three fellows: the Rev. Mr. Aly Essayed, Ra the First, Field Marshal of the Kingdom; the novelist Khaled Azzouz; and Minister of Law of the Kingdom, Prince Mustafa Rashed, the lawyer. They all get stoned with Aniss joining in. When they run out of hashish, Aniss gives them his stash. Everyone is so grateful to Aniss that they make him Minister of Drugs.
On another day Ragab brings a married woman to the Kingdom. Her name is Sanneya and she is in the process of getting a divorce from her unfaithful husband. Aly Essayed takes an interest in her and Ragab leaves to go to the studio, leaving Sanneya behind. Soon she joins in on the smoking routine with the guys. On still another day Regab introduces the group to a blond woman named Layla. Khaled takes a liking to her and soon they form a pair. Back home, Layla gives her mother the money she got from Khaled.
At the studio, Ragab performs a musical number with the other actors. Some young fans come in to see Ragab. The actor is very taken with a pretty young student named Sanaa. She asks him is he can teach her how to act and he says yes. He takes her home and gives her her first lesson: the kiss. On another occasion Ragab introduces Sanaa to the members of the Kingdom, including the other two women. On one of Sanaa's legs is written "Make love, not war".
The group decides to pile into a convertible car and take a ride. They go out to visit the Pharonic cemetery. On their way back from the cemetery, Ragab accidentally hits a young, pregnant peasant woman. A crowd quickly surrounds the woman. The group in the car make the decision to leave the scene of the accident. They return to the houseboat. They dismiss the incident by making fun of it: "She got killed because she wasn't high." The feeling is that the government won't bother with the case because they are too busy setting up socialism. Everyone starts dancing. The servant Abdou comes in to announce: "Air raid! Turn off the lights." Someone remarks: "Isn't the war over yet?"
Miss Samara, a colleague of Aly Essayed, writes a movie review that absolutely trashes the most recent film done by Ragab, saying it had no social relevance to today's society. Aly objects to the harshness of the piece. He tells his colleague to get to know Ragab better before she judges him so harshly. He persists and finally gets her to agree to visit the houseboat. Samara visits, but can't be convinced into joining in on the activities of the group. The women call her a real downer and a drag. Samara, however, is fascinated by their lifestyle. She decides she wants to write an article on them: people who get high to forget about their problems. Samara starts by speaking with Aniss. She can't help revealing her skepticism about the group's way of life, which causes Aniss to respond: "If one lives with his senses intact in our age, one dies of anger." Samara goes with Aniss to the houseboat. She asks the group if they are at all interested in current events. No, they are not all that interested. Ragab invites her to dinner.
Back home, Samara gets to see her brother, who is a soldier on a very brief leave from the front. He tells his sister that he is upset about all the frivolous activity in which so many of the urbanites are engaging. While he fights, they play. And each time he comes home on leave, the skirts are shorter. Samara says that she is going to take a group to the front to benefit the morale of the troops.
The blonde woman named Layla opportunistically asks Khaled for three years back rent. Ragab and Samara go out to dinner. She tells him that he is a womanizer, but he counters that the gossip is highly exaggerated.
Sanaa is very jealous of Samara and she goes to her workplace to tell her that she has been seeing Ragab for five years and they are going to be engaged. She wants Samara to leave Ragab alone. Sanaa then goes to see Ragab and tells him she wants to have sex with him. After sex, she suggests that they should get married.
Samara returns to the houseboat. She asks a great many questions for her planned article. The men tell her that they were once politically active as young people. In fact, they were revolutionists, they say. They participated in demonstrations and even got jailed. But now they are extremely cynical about Egypt's political system. Khaled remarks that "After the revolution, we felt that our role was over."
Aniss finds Samara's notebook with its extremely harsh criticisms of all the members of the group, including the women. She describes Aniss as half crazy and half dead. Aniss has a flashback to his university days when he was beaten mercilessly by the police.
Samara attends another get together on the houseboat. She tells everyone that she is leaving to go to the front. Ragab quickly says that he will go with her to the front. She is pleased to hear that. But then Aniss intervenes saying "None of us deserve to visit the front!" Then he starts criticizing with Samara's words everyone of the group, including himself. Rather than being highly insulted, the group is rather amused and start laughing over the whole thing. Samara feels dizzy and leaves the houseboat.
Samara is on the bus waiting for Ragab to come (but he just decides to oversleep). Instead of Ragab, Aniss appears. He gives Samara her notebook. She then invites him onto the bus and Aniss agrees. The bus drops the group at an area of bombed-out and deserted buildings. The group goes one way, but Aniss walks in the opposite direction. He is blown away at what he sees. He asks out loud: "What happened here? Where is everybody? This is horrible!" He has flashbacks to the car hitting the young, pregnant peasant girl. At the end of the day, the bus picks up Aniss and Samara asks where he has been. He tells her about the hit-and-run accident. She is absolutely shocked. The two of them return to the houseboat to confront the group. Aniss tells the group of those who never sober up that they must turn themselves in because now the young girl has died. Then Samara starts to criticize them very harshly. She tells them to "Stop this decadence." Samara also adds that the group has abandoned their morals and principles.
The group responds by criticizing Samara, the moralist. Aly Essayed tells her: "The laws of this society are as good as dead, Samara." Ragab tells her that they had to leave the scene of the accident for fear of being torn apart by the quickly gathering peasants. And the lawyer tells her that he would have gotten everyone off anyway and even would have gotten monetary awards from the peasant girl's relatives for damages to the convertible.
For once, Samara is quiet. The moralist never even considered the situation or the motivations of the group. While Samara is quiet, the half crazy Aniss is not. He walks out of the houseboat accompanied by Samara. Abdou, upset, unleashes the tie-up rope and the houseboat starts drifting along on the River Nile. In the city streets, Aniss keeps shouting "Hey, people! We must wake up!"
Good movie, but slow at getting to the point. It would be easy to condemn the hashish-smoking group of intellectuals in the "Kingdom". After all, they are doing nothing much creatively and are wasting their lives being high all the time. And they were involved in a hit-and-run accident. Certainly, the very harsh Samara thought it was clearly a black-and-white judgment. The group of intellectuals was decadent and that was that. And living in a relatively free country like the United States, would readily tempt one to come to such a quick judgment. But let's not be too quick to judge the more radical intellectuals in Egypt. How would we in free countries react if our governments suddenly became military dictatorships and freedom was totally squashed? I would admit that I would get very depressed, feeling that I was denied the opportunity to share my beliefs and opinions with others; that I was wasting my life away because I was not able to tell the truth about current events and opinions. Who knows, I might even choose a somewhat more decadent life-style myself. Especially for intellectuals, it must be simply deadening to have to live in a military dictatorship or any other type of dictatorship.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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