A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s The Land, also known as The Earth, with José Arroyo and Richard Layne. The film was released in 1970 and is based on Marxist Egyptian author Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi’ novel The Egyptian Land, first published in 1954. It was part of a wave of cultural works named Iltizam, referring to a serious, committed approach to fiction, of which we can see Chahine’ film as a cinematic equivalent. We find The Land to be so far the best in the series of works currently being shown on Netflix and which we are watching in chronological order.
The film makes connections between anti-colonial and class struggles. It dramatises how it is the strength of collective resistance that determines the outcome of major social upheavals. We discuss the beauty of its images, such as the opening image, rough hands tending cotton flowers, which is then rhymed with the closing image: a freeze frame of bloodied hands scratching the land so as to try to hold onto it. Each character in The Land is not only a fully rounded three-dimensional character but is also symbolised as an extension of social class and cultural dynamic reflecting the complexity of the village’s life.
We discuss the story of how a rich man wanting a road to his mansion destroys the life of a village, and how its elders and leaders — Abu Swailam (Mahmoud El-Meliguy), the hero; Sheikh Hassouna, the religious leader;Sheik Yusuf, greedy village merchant; and Muhammad Effendi (Hamdy Ahmed), the local school teacher — are unable to resist what is clearly going to destroy them all, either because they are corrupted, or because individually they don’t have the power to. We also discuss the role of women in the film: Wasifa (Nadwa Ibrahim), Abu Swailam’s daughter and Khadra (Tewfik El Dekn), the landless orphan. The film has a powerful depiction of the intersection between class emancipation and national liberation and was nominated for Golden Palm at Cannes.
There are fascinating scenes: the fight over irrigation which ends when they must come together to rescue a cow; women fighting over shit; the allusions to a previous revolution and ongoing struggles. The film is set in the 30s but has resonances with Egypt’s contemporaneous battles with Israel over land. It is also a fascinating film on gender, with calling a man a woman being the worst insult and yet the women themselves depicted in the film as strong of feeling and of action. What The Land achieves is a firm demonstration of how cinema can allude to dynamic interrelationships between the personal and the social. The film simultaneously provides a perspective on how social dynamics affect and are affected by individual and collective commitments and political struggle.
I’ve been having fun making gif ads:
….and also trailers:
We’ve begun to be better informed and, alongside Malek Khouri’s The Arab National Project in Youssef Chahine’s Cinema, mentioned in previous posts, I also recommend Ibrahim Fawal’s book below, which has proved invaluable for, amongst other things, its account of the development of the film industry in Egypt.
I enclose the entry for the film from Ritrovato’s 2019 catalogue:
These are some extraordinary clips from the film that made it neither to the trailer or the gif ad but that are referred to in the podcast:
and to underline the richness of Chahine’s imagery I have extracted these images which are also discussed In the podcast:
Barrie Wharton has written a very interesting article on the creation of national identity in Nasser’s Egypt that references The Land :
Barrie Wharton, ‘Cultivating cultural change through cinema; Youssef Chahine and the creation of national identity in Nasser’s Egypt,’ Africana, Vol.3, No. 1, 2009
and can be found here: