Sog.: from the homonymous novel (1953) by Abderrahmane Cherkaoui. Scen.: Hassan Fouad. F.: Abdelhalim Nasr. M.: Rachida Abdel Salam. Scgf.: Salh Gaber, Gabriel Karraze. Mus.: Ali Ismail. Int.: Mahmoud Al-Méligui (Mohamed Abou Swelam), Hamdy Ahmed (Mohammad Effendi), Yehia Chahine (Hassuna), Ezzat El-Alaili (Abd El-Hadi), Nagwa Ibrahim (Wassifa), Ali El Scherif (Diab), Salah El-Saadany (Elwani), Tawfik El Deken (Khedr). Prod.: Organizzazione Generale del Cinema Egiziano. DCP. D.: 130’. Col.
In a village in the Nile Delta in the 1930s, a few major landowners exploit the impoverished peasants. When famine threatens, a petition is drawn up. A peasant named Abou Swelam is charged with bringing it to Cairo. Swelam is also the father of a pretty girl and there are many competing for her hand. But latent conflicts soon reach an uncontrollable height when the cotton fields are hit by drought and the poorest farmers find that their water allowances have been arbitrarily reduced. Instead of the usual ten days’ irrigation they will only be able to irrigate for five days, so that a politician can divert a road in order to be able to reach his luxury villa more easily.
The Arab left – thriving at the time – saw this film as a manifesto against major landholders and an ode to the green revolution. Chahine was proud of the fact that he had turned a highly urban actor (Mahmoud Al-Méligui, at the height of his cop-movie fame) into the epitome of a poor Egyptian farmer, a fellah. This powerful agrarian story found new audiences for Egyptian cinema at Cannes in 1969. Even though the story betrays the influence of Bondarčuk-style Soviet cinema, Al-ard remains a profoundly Egyptian film, with a dramatic intensity and a depth of human emotion that far outclass mere activist cinema.