Youssef Chahine’s adaptation of Marxist writer `Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi’s 1953 novel, set in the 1930s, is an epic chronicle of life in a rural Egyptian village. The main plot concerns the unsuccessful attempts of the villagers to retain their access to water. Told that they can only irrigate their land a few days a month, several of the villagers are arrested for overwatering. Although the outside threat originally seems to unite the villagers, divisions resurface, and one of them is bought off by the local bey, representative of the ruling class in general. Portrayed as a narcissistic, European-featured aesthete alienated from the land beneath his feet, the aristocrat has no compulsion against destroying the life of the poor peasants, or fellahs. Eventually, his decision to build a road through the fields to his house leads to confiscation of several villagers’ land, including that of the films’ central presence, Abu Swaylim (Chahine regular, Mahmoud el-Milligi). Troops are brought in to enforce the unjust law, but Abu Swaylim develops a relationship with their leader, Captain Abdullah, a sympathetic character whose class position aligns him with the villagers rather than his superiors. Nevertheless, other authorities arrive, and the film concludes as Abu Swayulim is dragged, dying, from his land, his fingers clinging to the precious, life-giving earth.
Imagery of water pervades The Earth, reflecting the faces of numerous characters, while the removal of dignity attached to cultivating the land is symbolized by the shaving of Abu Swaylim’s moustache (a Middle Eastern marker of masculinity) while he is imprisoned, The Earth is one of relatively few Egyptian films to address rural poverty in detail. It was made under the auspices of the public sector, during the administration of Gamal Abdel Nasser, with its critique set at an unspecified point in the past, under the constitutional monarchy. However, Nasserist land reforms had not changed conditions substantially, and a more contemporary application advocating further socialist-oriented reforms was viewed by many in Egypt as both possible and necessary. By extension, The Earth has been interpreted as a plea for Arab control of the Middle East, and thus a metaphor for the loss of territory to Israel in the 1967 Defeat. (Indeed Al-Ard, the film’s Arabic title, was also the name of a pan-Arabist Palestinian organization advocating Palestinian liberation prior to the formation of the PLO.) It screened at the Cannes Film Festival and substantially advanced Chahine’s international reputation.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1969, Genre – Drama, Country – Egypt, Language – Arabic, Producer –N/A, Director – Youssef Chahine, Music Director – N/A, Cast – Hamdy Ahmed, Yehia Chahine, Ezzat El Alaili, Tewfik El Dekn, Mahmoud El-Meliguy, Salah El-Saadany, Ali El Scherif , Nagwa Ibrahim