إعادة اكتشاف فيلم مصري مختلف: "صورة" مدكور ثابت / The Rediscovery of a Different Egyptian Film: Madkour Thabet's Image



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القفاش, أسامة; El Kaffash, Ossama

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[Madkour Thabet is a film theoretician who has made very few films, including one feature film that has become a landmark in Egyptian experimental cinema, commonly referred to as The Image (Al-Sura), but whose full title is The Story of the Original and the Image, in Directing a Narrative of Naguib Mahfouz, Known as "The Image." Thabet made this highly innovative film in 1969 and in retrospect it seems a prophetic statement, anticipating the hegemony of market values with their concurrent exploitation of subaltern classes and women. The film is technically akin to surrealist cinema, but ideologically draws on Brechtian concepts of art and representation. It is divided into five tableaux; the plot unfolds in a dislocated way, mixing the fantastic with the realistic. The characters change their names as the film moves on; the actors display self-consciousness so as to remind the spectators that they are in front of an image, not the original. This is further nuanced since the film is based on a representation (that of Mahfouz) at some remove from reality. This predeliction for constant reminders that the film is a film and an artifice prevents easy identification. This draws attention, however ironically, to the reality dissimulated by the dominant ideological discourse. The article analyzes the film, starting with the significance of its long and cumbersome title, the director's intention in mixing professional with non-professional actors, and the implication of their actual and film names. The article treats each tableau separately, showing its function in the whole and the coherence of the message inherent in the film. The spectator at the end of the film will have no choice but to move in one of two directions: either giving up his/her passivity and doing something about the world around him/her or dismissing the film as a silly joke. The film-a highly intellectual and artistic production-was not welcomed by the cinema establishment and was too avant-garde for the public to appreciate without the necessary critical debate, yet it is still relevant and thought-provoking today, perhaps more than ever-now that the world in general and Egypt in particular have seen what it means to be controlled by market forces. The article demonstrates that The Image is a cinematic, visual embodiment, not only of experimental creativity, but also a rendition of Arabic poetics, and thus it is considered as a poetic film. Calling on both Paolo Pierre Pasolini's manifesto on poetic cinema and on medieval Arab poetic theory, the author shows the metonymic and metaphoric underlinings of the film and its ironic thrust. Intertextual references and cross-references are pointed out, too-some of which pertain to Arabic poetry and proverbs; others to Classical and Arab cinema (Godard, Fellini, Lang, Chaplin, Abu Seif, Chahine, etc.). The interfilmic references often perform the function of nodding to the spectator and calling upon her/his reserves of cinematic knowledge and visual sensibility to see contrasts and parallelisms. This is in fact a film that requires an active participation on the part of the audience and shuns the consumeristic reception of images. Finally, the article concludes that this film could have ushered a wave of new and alternative cinema in Egypt and the Arab world, if its aesthetics and vision had not been sidetracked. Now is the time to re-view this film, which has preserved a freshness of composition and pertinence of message.]

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