Egyptian resistance to occupation portrayed in contemporary cinema
CAIRO - Directed by Egypt’s Peter Mimi, “Harb Karmouz” (“Karmouz War”) is an Egyptian action movie whose plot takes place during the British occupation of Egypt prior to 1952. Not many contemporary Egyptian films portray that era, which helped make “Harb Karmouz” a hit at Egyptian box offices.
“Harb Karmouz” starts with British soldiers raping a young Egyptian woman during a cold night in the poor Karmouz neighbourhood — the main setting of the film — in Alexandria. Three Egyptian men rush to the scene after hearing the girl’s screams and clash with the soldiers. One soldier and an Egyptian are killed in the confrontation.
They end up at Karmouz police station, which the protagonist, Egyptian officer Youssef el-Masry — craftily portrayed by Amir Karara — is in charge of.
The rapist is the nephew of the British military governor of Alexandria, well-played by Fouad Sharaf El Den. The governor demands that his nephew be set free. Masry firmly rejects the order, especially after he hears the story of the devastated Egyptian woman who happens to be at the police station after she was arrested for attempting to commit suicide.
The British governor demands that the two Egyptians who killed the soldier are transferred to the British authorities for trial.
The theme of honour crimes appears on the surface in the film as the woman is afraid of her father who may kill her if he knows she has been subjected to rape.
Masry insists that the soldier who committed the rape and another soldier who attacked him for refusing to release his colleague are referred to court.
A semi-war between British troops and Egyptian police erupts and escalates into an implicit resistance war against the occupiers.
“It seems like a war. Yes, it’s a war,” Masry says.
Among the most prominent roles in the film is that of the cynical Ezzat el-Wahsh, played by Mahmood Hemaidah. Wahsh is a former military officer who disobeyed orders of the British military and ended up in prison. He is locked up at Karmouz police station at the time of the confrontation. He is a patriot who supports Masry in his fight.
“The whole British Army is outside except for (former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill),” Wahsh says, sarcastically, in reference to the forces getting ready to attack the station.
Masry does not budge, refusing to respond to the pressures of the British governor as well as an Egyptian parliament member who is loyal to the British. Masry’s decision makes him liable to a court martial and he is declared to be disobedient in the “war.”
The MP is well-portrayed by Bayyumi Fuad, who surprisingly performed a serious role even though he is a comedian.
The film stars both Egyptian and Western actors, including British actor Scott Adkins.
Another well-portrayed role is that of Zauba, played by Ghada Abulraziq. She is a prostitute who visits the police station to get a stamp on her work permit. Zauba is no less patriotic than the other characters. She promises herself to quit if the ordeal is over.
Mostafa Khater, playing Asfoura (the Arabic word for a “passerine”) acts as comic relief. He is a funny, witty thief, yet a patriot who helped with the cause.
Given the limited budget of Egyptian films compared to Hollywood movies, the film is highly praised. Mimi, who also co-wrote the script, took care of the details of that era, including the clothes and gear. The story was co-written by producer Mohamed el-Sobky.
“I watched 15 hours of documentary films, I saw 1,200 pictures of tanks and armoured trucks and clothes and read five books (about the era),” Mimi wrote on his Facebook page.
“In a nutshell, it’s a well-made commercial film. It depicted the 1940s, so the director had enough freedom to express what he needs (without fearing censorship),” said critic Tarek el-Shenawy.
The film was met by viewers’ appraisal as well.
“I enjoyed the action in the movie and, at some point, it made me feel proud of the strong Egyptian will against the British occupation, even though the movie is fictional,” said Nagwa Fawzy, 28.