Everybody has heard about the distant and mysterious Egypt, its grand pyramids and powerful pharaohs, the majestic Nile and silent Sphinx since childhood. Egypt is reflected in the country’s beautiful and proud Cleopatra, the powerful Pharaoh Ramses and the beauty of Nefertiti, which has become the standard of female beauty. One third of the historical monuments of the world is in this cradle of civilization. Egypt is one of the most ancient civilizations and one of the most mysterious countries in the world, having a rich history. A lot of books, novels, documentaries, songs and motion pictures describe the culture of this beautiful country. They tell the stories of separate people and the Egyptian nation as a whole trying to reflect the cultural and historical background. The current paper is the comparison of two films concerning the Egyptian culture in the twentieth century - Umm Kulthum: A Voice like Egypt narrated by Omar Sharif and Yacoubian Buildingdirected by Sameh Selim.
Both films represent the peculiarities of Egyptian culture, history and social life. However, they do it differently. First, these films are of different genres – Umm Kulthum: A Voice like Egypt is the biographic documentary and Yacoubian Buildingis a feature film. The first movie tells the audience about one of the most outstanding religious singers of Egypt – Uhm Kulthum. Finding out the history of her success and her strong voice, the audience starts to understand the Egyptian culture and the state of society at the early twentieth century. It is to some extent not the biography of a singer, but the biography of the whole country. Uhm Kulthum’s voice is a reflection and representation of Egypt. All the modulations of the voice, long rising and falling notes represent the mystery, rise, and fall of the country, its divergence and spirituality since the singer’s voice has mysterious magnetism and hypnotism. The prevalence of religious texts Uhm Kulthum sang reflects the religious nature of Egyptians and the importance of religion in their daily life and society. In addition, her refusal to change the repertoire stands for uncompromising nation, who do not want to sacrifice their ancient culture for the foreign (British) invaders. The biographical notes about the singer give the representation of daily realities of the Egypt in the early twentieth century. For example, when the girl was born, mother of Uhm Kulthum did not want to tell the gender of the newborn to her father. At the beginning of the singer’s career, her father arrayed her in boy’s clothes since it was strange that an Arabian girl performs in front of a large male audience. In addition, the fact that Uhm Kulthum earned half of her father’s monthly salary with her singing reflects the poverty in the country. However, the main character of this movie is the voice – the voice of Egypt. Uhm Kulthum had an unusually strong voice and, as a metaphor, it reflects the strong nature of Egyptian culture. After watching this film, one can make a conclusion that as a voice of Uhm Kulthum, the Egyptian nation is strong enough to rise and prosper.
On the contrary, Yacoubian Buildingis a feature movie and has a plot and set of characters. What makes it similar to the documentary is that it represents the Egyptian culture and history by telling the story of common Egyptians and an outstanding character – the Yacoubian building, being a full-fledged member of the movie along with all cast. However, the highlighted period is other – the action in the movie takes place at the end of the 20th century. As opposed to Uhm Kulthum, the director presents not the biography of main characters, but their interaction in terms of current social condition in the country. For example, the society is still patriarchal, and a woman has negligibly few rights since in order to be paid she is supposed to allow sexual actions towards her. Zaki Pasha el Dessouki represents the ruling class in Egyptian society of that time, being concerned in women having Western appearance, and not quite subjected to Islam, i.e. lost their cultural background. However, one of the main characters is the Yacoubian building itself. In comparison to Uhm Kulthum, it represents the might and beauty of Egypt. However, with time, its glory has passed away, and the beautiful edifice was turned into a cheap residential space for low-class people. Here, one can see a parallel with the Egyptian society and culture, which was glorious before, but decayed and was turned into the country of poor people. The building represents the loss of cultural and religious background by Egyptians and the rapid urbanization of Cairo at the end of the twentieth century.
As one can see, both films represent the same topic - the state of Egyptian society and culture at a particular period. These films state the same thing differently, and the idea of Uhm Kulthum (Egypt is a strong and iridescent country with rich culture) passed to Yacoubian Building (Egypt was strong and beautiful, but things have changed). These are the stories of unique and uncompromising person, i.e. nation, in the past and the nation that had to compromise its principles. However, Uhm Kulthum’s voice and the youth in Yacoubian Building seem like the light of hope for a change. The conclusion is that both films are interesting and useful for those people who want to familiarize themselves with Egyptian culture, society and history from different viewpoints.