Iskanderija . . . lih?
(Alexandria . . . Why?) (1979)
Director: Youssef Chahine
Starring: Ahmed Zaki (Ibrahim), Naglaa Fathy (Sarah), Farid Shawqi (Mohsen's Father), Mahmoud El-Meliguy (Qadry), Ezzat El Alaili (Shaker)
personal relationships set against the background of World War II; Alexandria Trilogy
Egypt in World War II and afterward. This is the partial autobiography of the director Youssef Chahine in his youth in Cairo.
Spoiler Warning: the below tells the whole story.
Good movie. It is 1942. Rommel is advancing toward Alexandria with Hitler saying: "Alexandria, you are mine." Yehia is a student at Victoria College. His mother and father have sacrificed their standard of living to get him into this school. His father wants him to be an engineer, but Yehia wants to be an actor. He has a group of friends that go with him to watch movies. The one we see involves Eleanor Powell dancing.
Yehia's uncle, Adel Bey, negotiates with the criminal Morsi to capture a New Zealand officer so he can kill him (all in the name of patriotism). Morsi gets Yehia a young British enlisted man, Tommy, instead. Adel is about to kill Tommy, but suddenly finds him sexually attractive. He spares the soldier and they become temporary lovers.
A young Jewish woman, Sarah Sorel, is a friend of Adel's sister. She is in love with Ibrahim who is a labor leader on the water docks. The owner of the company, Pasha, resists the strike, but higher ups tell him to give the workers what they want, since the war effort demands the quick unloading of war supplies.
The Germans are at Tobruk and then move onto Marsa Matrouch. The fear among the Egyptians is that the Germans could soon be entering Alexandria. Sarah is pregnant and wants to stay in Alexandria, but her family takes her with them when they flee Alexandria to South Africa.
The British save the day at the Battle of El Alamein. Rommel is on the run.
Yahia puts on a play (with the sponsorship of Princess Chahinour) that turns out to be a flop (little rehearsal and hooligans spoil the show). But Yehia is not deterred. When he makes his own "home" movie using local talent, someone suggests that he apply to an actor' school in Pasadena, California.
With the Germans losing in Africa, Pasha fires all the dock workers. Sarah goes with her father and brother to Palestine, even though she would rather be in Alexandria with Ibrahim. But Ibrahim has been arrested for his activism and is sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
Yahia can't get enough funds to go to Pasadena and has to take a job as a bank employee.
The war is over. Adel looks for Tommy, only to find that he was killed in battle.
Sarah visits Ibrahim in prison with their son, Ibrahim Jr. She says life is hard in Palestine. Instead of paradise, battles rage in Haifa.
Yahia receives notice that he has been accepted by the Pasadena school for actors. With a great deal of effort, his family is able to scrape the necessary funds together to send him by boat to New York City and then on to California.
I like the way the movie switches back and forth from tales of Yahia and company to current events of the time. We get to see those events through the eyes of a group of Egyptians. The desire for independence from Britain is strong among the Egyptians.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See Alexandria Again and Forever (1989) and Hadduta misrija (An Egyptian Story) (1982).
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