The Yacoubian Building is adapted from a novel of the same name by Alaa Al Aswany, which took the Arab world by storm upon release in 2002. Director Marwan Hamed is faithful to the original conceit, and we follow the diverse inhabitants of Yacoubian's Building in downtown Cairo. There's Zaki (Adel Imam), a faded aristocrat, Bothayna (Hind Sabry), the beautiful, poor girl he falls for, and Haj Azzam (Nour El Sherif), a rich businessman. The pace can be slack, but this movie will slowly draw you in.
The eponymous building is an art deco apartment block, and all Egyptian life - from the richest, to the poor who huddle on its top floor - is there. While Zaki lives in faded luxury and chases women, Bothayna endures sexual harassment while working as a shop assistant to provide for her poor family after the death of her father. Meanwhile her boyfriend, Taha (Mohamed Imam), son of the building's janitor, is rejected by the police and joins a radical Islamic group.
"A RARE WINDOW ON LIFE IN THIS SECULAR ISLAMIC COUNTRY"
Really, the Building is a metaphor for Egypt; this film provides a rare window on life in this secular Islamic country, and the corruption and poverty that still blight it under President Mubarak. There's also a frank look at a homosexual relationship, which shocked some Egyptian readers of the novel. Divergent plot lines mean that the opening scenes of this film can lack narrative zap, and matters aren't helped by a clunky English translation that renders some dialogue lifeless. Still, there are strong performances from Tunisian actress Hind Sabry and Egyptian superstar Nour El Sharif, and The Yacoubian Building does manage, ultimately, to cast a subtle and fascinating spell.
The Yacoubian Building is out in the UK on 14th Sept 2007.