Omaret yakobean (The Yacoubian Building) (2006)
Director: Marwan Hamed.
Cast:* Adel Imam (Zaki El Dessouki), Nour El-Sherif (Haj Azzam), Youssra (Christine), Essad Youniss (Dawlat El Dessouky), Ahmed Bedir (Malaak), Hend Sabri (Bothayna), Khaled El Sawy (Hatem Rachid), Khaled Saleh (Kamal El Fouly), Ahmed Rateb (Fanous), Somaya El Khashab (Soad), Bassem Samra (Abd Raboh), Mohamed Imam (Taha El Shazly).
criticism of Egypt since the coup d'etat of 1952 that overthrew King Farouk and brought in Nasser
* There is a difference between the names used in the credits and the names used by the subtitles and so sometimes they disagree. But you can still figure out who's who.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1937. Chief Armenian in Egypt, Hagoub Yacoubian, built a residential building. It was a luxury apartment building and it was beautiful. Many Pashas live in the building. Then the revolution broke out. It ended the era of the Pashas in the building.
1956 war. This was the beginning of the end for foreigners and Jews. High ranking military officers came into the building. The officers ruined it. They became rich and moved to Mohandessin and Nassr City. Now anyone with money came to the building. Each room had a whole family in it.
Zaki Pasha sits having a drink in a bar. He flirts with the attractive waitress. She smiles at him and he asks her to go out with him for some drinks.
In the building, the young man Taha is scrubbing floors. One of the Pashas in the building orders him around. Taha wants to go to college. He is engaged to a young woman named Buthaina, whose family lives on the roof of the building. Buthaina tells her mother that she quit her job. This makes her mother very angry, but Buthaina says that she had to do it because her boss caressed her.
Zaki Pasha lives in the building with his sister Dawlat.
The news of the day is that of the trial of the assassins. They killed Egypt's great novelist Nageeb Mahfouth. The matter in part is handled by middle-aged Hatem who is the editor of a French newspaper in Egypt.
A luxury car salesman named Hajj Azzam talks with Sheik Salnan. Hajj tells his visitor that he has been feeling wonderful these days. He has a wet dream one or two times per week. The Sheik tells him to get married to another woman; after all, he can have as many as four wives.
The pretty waitress from the bar pays a visit to Zaki Pasha. She changes into some more comfortable clothes, a black slip. The waitress explains to Zaki that she wants to climb socially to get away from the kind of people that patronize the bar where she works. They have sex off camera.
Hajj is still on the lookout for women. He smokes pot with his son.
Buthaina works for a clothing store for Talal Elshamy. Her fiancÚ Taha does not like the idea. This upsets the ambitious Buthaina and she gives his ring back to him.
Zaki Pasha wakes up alone and finds that the waitress stole his watch and wallet with 900 pounds in it. His sister Dawlat tells him to pick up her ring from the jeweler. Zaki goes to the bar to find the waitress. The manager tells Zaki he is not happy with him. He does not want this kind of behavior to take place in his bar. He then tells Zaki that he fired the woman. He adds that the Pasha is also "fired": Get out!
Hatem the newspaper editor gives a security guard quite a bit of money. The guard is confused as to the reason for this.
Zaki's sister reads him the riot act when he shows up without her ring. (He pawned the ring for some needed cash.)
Buthaina asks Taha to give her back her engagement ring.
Hajj takes a interest in a woman named Soad who works for one of his associates.
Taha takes an oral exam to get into the military. When then learn that his father is just a doorman, they conclude that he is not the man for them and tell Taha that he is dismissed. This upsets Taha a great deal.
At work Buthaina's co-worker and friend Fifi tells her that she makes extra money by servicing the boss. He likes to haves standing sex with his clothes on, rubbing against her.
Hajj decides that he wants Soad for his next wife.
Zaki gets into another bad fight with his sister. But this time she throws him out of the apartment. Zaki eats dinner while listening to a pretty, singing female piano player. He knows the woman, who is named Christine. Zaki tells her about the unreasonableness of Dawlat. Since Christine knows her, she calls her to talk with her about letting Zaki back into the apartment. But Dawlat will not listen to her and dismisses her by saying: "You're just one of his lovers."
Hatem is with the security guard, Ab Rabbu. While talking to the guard, Hatem starts to get fresh with him and Rabbu gets upset and starts to leave. But Hatem asks him to just stay the night. Rabbu stays. Hatem then gives the guard wine and pajamas. Soon enough, Rabbu has sex with Hatem (off screen).
Hajj makes Soud sign a contract for the upcoming marriage. He wants the marriage to remain a secret from his wife. And there are to be no pregnancies. If they do happen, an abortion is required.
Dawlat has her brother Zaki's suitcases taken over to him where he is staying. She still refuses to talk to Zaki.
Taja starts his college classes. He sits way in the back to stay away from the majority of the students who are rich kids. He is joined by another poor kid for the same reason.
Buthaina arrives early to work at the clothes shop. The boss comes in and he does his sexual routine, which only involved Buthaina standing still. She wants 20 pounds for this, but he only gives her 10. Later, as she tries to wash the sperm off her clothes, she cries.
A process server arrives and serves Zaki Pasha. It involves an incompetence case. Dawlat claims that he has gone loco and is spending all the money he has. Zaki describes her as tyrannous and crazy.
Buthania speaks with Taha. She says: "This is not our country any more." She feels like a stranger in Egypt. Taha mentions to her that her attitude toward him has changed. She is much more distant now.
The guard Rabbu feels very guilty about his engagement with Hatem in acts of homosexuality. He says he is afraid of God, who does not approve of alcohol, sex and lechery. But Hatem tells the young fellow that there is absolutely nothing wrong in what they have been doing.
A man named Malek speaks with Buthaina. He wants her to talk to her boss in the clothes shop and get him to buy shirts from him. He wants her to use her sex appeal to seal the deal. He knows about her and the shop owner, which makes Buthaina very angry.
Soad says "enough" to her new husband. She feels that he is having too much sex with her and doesn't like it. She takes a long shower to clean herself and cries.
Hajj wants to run for Parliament of the Kassr Elnile district. This is considered a "no-problems" district populated by mostly people with money. Kamal Elfoly, the local government minister, is willing to sell the district to Hajj but for lots of cash.
Hamat has gotten a room in the building for his lover and his family, complete with his wife and two children.
Zaki Pasha pays a visit to his lawyer, who tells him the only solution in the Dawlat situation is to hire some hoodlums to break into the apartment. Then Zaki can move his stuff in. At first Zaki says he can't do it. Later he ponders the question of why he never married. He refused to marry Caroline the singer/piano player because he was afraid he would cheat on her and then she would hate him.
Malek has a new offer for Buthaina. He will give her 600 pounds instead of 250. He tells her he has a very good job for her.
There is some feeling in Egypt that the government is tainted because it gets much of its much needed funds from gambling, brothels and tourists.
Taha gets into another quarrel with Buthaina and she tells him: "It's over." He is too traditional for her. For instance, she tells him: "I like short skirts."
Soud complains to husband Hajj that she is nothing more than a second string wife. She wants to go to Alexandria to see her son. No, the contract won't allow it. Well, then she wants her son to visit her in her apartment. Again, Hajj says the contract forbids it.
Huge trucks filed with riot police arrive at the university. They start to break up a student demonstration using placards such as: "Islam: neither eastern or western." Taha gets hit by a lot of baton blows. He goes down. He gets up and makes a run for it. The police chase and then catch him. He is arrested.
Buthaina's new job is to work for Zaki. She visits him in his apartment to find out about her duties. She will have the responsibility for the office.
The police search Taha's place. In the jail his wrists are tied together and he is hoisted up on a hook, with only his wrists to support his body. They then start interrogating him. One of the men they want to know about is Hatem Rachid, editor of LeCaire newspaper. Since Taha is not providing them with the answers they want, they torture him severely. He is then thrown back into his cell.
Zaki Pasha flirts with Buhaina. He says that she is very beautiful. He changes her hair style to let her hair down. She is pleased by the changes and his pleasant attitude toward her.
Out of jail, Taha talks with his father. He explains that after what happened to him in jail, for him college is all over. What he wants is revenge and he wants his father to help him. The father does not fully understand the seriousness of the torture until his son tells him that he was raped by his interrogator and staff.
The guard Rabbu's wife complains to him that she does not like Hatem. She suspects something funny is going on. She notices that her husband's smell on their sheets is of another man. Rabbu becomes furious at this and hits her. To prove his manhood he immediately starts having intercourse with his wife.
Taja's father takes his son to a training camp for "terrorists". He
introduces Taja to the Ameer of the camp, Sheikh Bilal. Taja receives a
training similar to that of army basic training. He marries (but not to
Minister Kamal Elfoly explains to Hajj and his son that his organization wants one-fourth of all the profits made by them from the drug business.
Zaki Pasha and Buthaina have a talk. He tells her that he once lived in Paris. Buthaina remarkes that everyone wants to leave Egypt. Zaki plays a record by the famous French singer Edith Piaf. He dances with Buthaina and then they hug each other.
Soad is pregnant. She tells Hajj and he becomes very upset. He demands that she have an abortion.
Malek now tells Buthaina about his plans for her. He wants to get Zaki Pasha's apartment when he dies. He will give Buthaina 5,000 pounds if she gets him to sign the contract for this.
The son of the security guard becomes very sick with a high fever. Hatem gets him very good medical care, but the boy dies. Father and mother cry over the loss of their son.
Three women grab Soad and force her to get an abortion.
The government minister accuses of Hajj of stalling on the payment of one-quarter of the profits. The minister tells Hajj that he definitely has skeletons in his closet.
Zaki Pasha and Buthaina are both at dinner listening to Christine sing and play the piano. Afterwards, all three talks for awhile.
Hatem is absolutely shocked and livid when he learns that his lover has taken his wife and left without any notice. Hatem cries and says: "That dog!"
The drunken Zaki Pasha talks about Egypt as the country that went to hell. Buthaina takes him home. Taking advantage of his inebriation, she unbuttons her jacket to take advantage of her cleavage and then asks the drunken man to sign the contract as a guarantor for a loan. The unknowing Zaki starts to sign Malek's contract, but he suddenly starts to get sick. He has to go to the bathroom where he throws up into the toilet. Buthaina gets him up and into bed. She tears up the contract.
Following the abortion, Soud is still very upset. She starts calling her husband's associates "infidels". They inform her that her husband has divorced her. She is out.
The drug enforcement agency swoops down on Hajj and his son. (They were probably informed on by the governmental minister.) The only thing that saves Hajj is that as a member of Parliament he has immunity.
Dawlat is working with Malek. He brings her some information concerning her brother.
Buthaina tells Zaki Pasha that she is in love with him. And she tells him that they should go to Paris. (And, she adds, she is a virgin.)
Hatem gets a new homosexual lover.
Hajj nervously smokes a lot.
Dawlat leads the policemen to Zaki while he is in bed with Buthaina. The sister has accused him of committing adultery in her apartment. Zaki protests that it's his apartment, but to no avail. The police already have their minds made up about his guilt. Both he and Buthaina have to spend a little time in jail.
Hatem tells his lover to come close to him: "I need you." The lover takes his shirt off and his belt. He then uses the belt to strangle Hatem to death. He then steals the dead man's watch and wallet.
The governmental minister speaks with Hajj, who is now willing to sign the contract. But, adds the minister, the articles of the contract have been altered. Now he must pay 50% percent of the profits, not just 25% percent.
Taja and two associates are ready to attack the police station. Approaching the station Taja sees the man who tortured him. Taja shoots the man several times and he falls into the arms of his guards. One of the guards then shoots Taja. Then a general firefight breaks out between the two sides. The second activist is shot and killed. Taja gets up and walks over to the still surviving torturer and shoots him dead. Taja is then killed by a guard. Torturer and torturee now lay side by side, both dead amidst their flowing blood.
Zaki and Buthaina get married. They both are very happy. After the wedding, they walk hand in hand up the street together.
Good movie. There are a lot of characters in the film, so one has to pay close attention to detail to follow all the stories. For all the highly moralistic talk in the Islamic countries about obeying strict Islamic law, there were a lot of people doing a lot of questionable or downright bad things. There is corruption, kidnapping, abortion, prostitution of a sort, homosexuality, murder, sexual perversion, marital cheating, business scams, drug dealing, taking advantage of those in weaker position, etc. Hey, it's just like other fairly advanced societies. Nice to know we are all the same. But it gives a healthy counter portrait to myth of the monolithic Islamic world where everyone is trying to be a good puritan. In the movie there is a lot of disillusion with the Egyptian government. And the poor are still poor and still being taken advantage of by those with money.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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