On May 15th, 1964, Egypt’s Aswan Dam is lavishly inaugurated after 30 years of colossal works. Barâk, a Nubian teenager and Nikolaj, a young engineer from Leningrad, swim in one part of the river for the last time. There grow a bond between the two and images of their past sprang.
This Egyptian-Soviet coproduction was commissioned to celebrate the completion of the dam. Both parties turned against Youssef Chahine, with Soviet and Egyptian officials agreeing in their rejection of the director’s cut and insisting on a new version, called People of the Nile, which Chahine refused to sign.
The only existing print of the original cut was secretly transported, at Chahine’s request, to Henri Langlois’ Cinémathèque française, with the help of the French cultural chargé in Cairo, who agreed that the cans might travel in the diplomatic bag – which explains why the film, long considered lost, was restored at the Cinémathèque in 1996, under Chahine’s own supervision. With hindsight, it is not hard to see why both sides rejected the director’s cut. The story is formally innovative, with its parallel intrigues and flashbacks that scarcely glorify triumphant socialism’s infrastructure achievements, focusing instead of the existential anguish of homesick Russian engineers, their overqualified female en-gineers who are not allowed to take part in the project and a Nubian worker who knows that the new course of the river will flood his land and make his ancestral traditions disappear for ever.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Youssef Chahine, Nikolai Figourovski, A. El-Charkawi. F.: Alexander Shelenkov, You-Lan Chen. M.: Rachida Abdel Salam. Scgf.: Maher Abdel-Nour. Mus.: Aram Khachaturian. Int.: Salah Zulfikar, Seif El Dine, Imad Hamdi, Ezzat El-Alaili, Igor Vladimirov, Vladimir Ivachov, Tawfik El Deken, Inna Fyodorova. Prod.: Cairo Film, Mosfilm. 35mm. D.: 109’. Col.
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