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 Egyptian film tackles terrorism

Latest NewsEgyptian film tackles terrorism
By Vincent Dowd  World Service arts correspondent

At the Tribeca Film Festival in New York there has been an enthusiastic reception for what is said to be the most expensive Egyptian film ever made.

The Yacoubian Building (Omaret Yacoubian) is a film version of Alaa Al Aswany's 2002 novel of the same name which depicts the interlinked lives of the residents of a Cairo apartment block.

Like the original book, the new film controversially depicts...

...political corruption, homosexuality and acts of political violence.

Like any such event, Tribeca is a bit of a ragbag. There are, after all, almost 200 full-length movies playing here.

But one theme at Tribeca this time is the Islamic world - both its own films and in terms of US attitudes to Islam.

The Yacoubian Building is a handsomely staged, ambitious and certainly expensive account of modern life in Cairo.

The director Marwan Hamed is the youngest director of a big movie this year at Tribeca and he has done an assured job: he manages to shift the tone convincingly between basically light-hearted early scenes and the darker, violent second half.

In the west attention will undoubtedly concentrate on The Yacoubian Building's account of how one young man turns to a violent form of extreme Islam in the face of social isolation.

Paranoid neighbour

The film is due to open in Egypt in June but the director Marwen Hamed says they are confident they will avoid censorship difficulties, despite the tricky theme:

"It's not only about terrorism. But each and every other story leads to terrorism also. What happened in the past fifty years, or seventy years, in our society led to terrorism. So the stories are linked and the characters are linked," he said.

It received its premiere the day before the US thriller Civic Duty, which also has a Middle East link.

TV star Peter Krause plays Terry - an American made so paranoid about Arabs that when one moves in next door he eventually turns to violence.

He convinces himself his neighbour - played by Egyptian Khaled Abol Naga - is a terrorist. In fact the story leaves that ambiguous.

The producer Andrew Lanter says a commercial thriller can carry a bigger theme about international relations.

"There's a very strong political message about two sides of a story and shouting one over another and voices not being heard, and what happens in those situations," he said.

"So to me, to achieve both is to utilise the thriller elements to really send a message to the masses."

The Tribeca Festival opened this week with United 93 - about one of the planes hijacked on 9/11. That opens commercially in the US on Friday.

Some research suggests Americans are not yet ready to go to cinemas in large numbers to confront such a topic... although United 93's generally good reviews may help.

But Tribeca at least already seems happy to grasp big political themes.

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