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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Taboo-smashing film breaks Egypt records
The Yacoubian Building
The film's themes include poverty, sexual violence and terrorism
An Egyptian film which graphically tackles subjects such as homosexuality, abuse and terrorism in the Arab world has broken box office records after release in its country of origin.

The Yacoubian Building, based on the book by Ala Aswani, has topped the Egyptian box office since the day it opened two weeks ago, and made more than one million dollars a day in the country.

In a country where films are often heavily censored, the film includes frank portrayals of homosexuality, police torture, and government corruption in telling the story of a group of tenants in a decaying Cairo residency.

The film's director, Marwan Hamed, told BBC World Service's On Screen programme that he thought the numbers seeing the film was "very positive" for the country, and said that at many of the screenings he has seen, audiences have been talking, reacting and even applauding all through it.

"The idea of film-making is to make a film that makes people think - so the film is doing its purpose, and I'm very happy about that," he said.

"It was a thin line between trying to be daring and pushing away the audience.

"We need to talk about the taboos, and we need to cancel the word 'taboos' from our lives - we need to talk about everything to become better. If we don't, if we hide everything in denial, how are we going to become better?"

Honest characters

The Yacoubian Building depicts four distinct but interlinked stories, centring on the residents of the central Cairo apartment.

The characters include an ageing womaniser, a gay man, and the son of the building's doorman, who joins a group of Muslim extremists after his application for the police force is turned down.

Marwan Hamed
Some people love it, some think it's too long, some think it's fast, some think it's too much, some think we need it
Director Marwan Hamed
He ends up in prison, where he is subjected to sexual abuse and torture.

It is the most expensive film ever made in Egypt, and many critics in the country have praised its portrayal of life in contemporary Cairo.

Director Hamed - who directed from a screenplay adapted by his father Wahid, one of the country's most celebrated screenwriters - said that he had been inspired by the "humanity" of the characters when reading Aswani's original novel, despite their controversial actions.

"Ala Aswani was very honest with his characters - he was not judgmental at all," he said.

"The novel is very much open-minded, and this is what I really liked. I was reading a lot about human beings. They have their errors and faults, but at the end of the day they are humans, and good drama is about good human elements."

Hamed added that the novel and film say a lot about what people in the Arab world "do not dare to say".

"In our countries... we need to talk more, to express ourselves, to have discussions in a civilised way - to make this country better," he said.

'I had to close my eyes'

The Yacoubian Building has received hugely varied reactions from critics and the public.

Hamed said that most important critics had written "very good things" about the film, but added that he has seen huge debates amongst audiences at various screenings.

The Yacoubian Building
The Yacoubian Building has been shown at Tribeca and Cannes
He stressed that his main concern while making the film was the audience, and how to tackle taboos and yet keep the audience from walking out.

"Some people love it, some think it's too long, some think it's fast, some think it's too much, some think we need it," he said.

"I like that debate very much. I think it is one of the film's successes."

Certainly, outside one cinema in Cairo - where viewers gave their opinion of The Yacoubian Building to On Screen - opinions differed hugely.

One said that they had seen many people walking out when seeing the scenes of homosexuality, especially the women in the audience.

"It's very strange to deal with such subjects in Egypt, and so openly," said another.

"It's a very good way of handling many subjects, and dealing with different situations that we find in society. This has not been tackled before by Egyptian films."

Another disagreed strongly, attacking in particular the sexual content of the film.

"I had to close my eyes every time," she said.

"I don't like that everyone is always talking about the sex."

Egypt debates controversial film
05 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
Egyptian film tackles terrorism
28 Apr 06 |  Entertainment
Country profile: Egypt
27 Jun 06 |  Country profiles

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