The Egyptian film The Yacoubian Building is an extremely important film for today’s American culture. Living in what is often sadly called a rape culture especially now with the Presidential nominee of a major party being accused of sexual misconduct left and right, we view the lives of characters living within another rape culture (the building that the title refers to, which is in Cairo). We see Muslims and professing Christians twisting their views of what their perspective holy books say in order to meet their own perverse desires without any regard for any person outside of themselves. All of the male characters in the film appear to be misogynistic, self-centered hypocrites at the outset, although as it progresses we learn that this is not true of every character. Rather, we see a believable mix of the good and the evil in each character.
In addition to rape and misogyny, the film also deals with terrorism, but it is not a major theme of the movie. This is an epic film with many characters for many different backgrounds as the building the title refers to is a hotel and apartment complex related to the Egyptian embassy. Because of this, and naturally being set in Egypt, there are many Muslim characters that we get to know. Yet only one has any ties to a terrorist organization, and he is the only character we get to know who is involved in the terrorist attack depicted. This fits appropriately with the statistics we have regarding the number of Muslims involved in such organizations, yet in America many of us are too full of stereotypical fears to recognize this fact.
Similarly, the movie reflects much truth contrary to stereotype regarding rape. We are encountered with a situation where a man (though he certainly doesn’t call it rape or believe it to be rape) vividly describes raping his wife. The movie explains a situation so believable, so natural, and so full of empathy for its victim that we are left knowing this is something possible. Also, the movie involves male rape victims who are so often left with even less a voice than there female counterparts because of a world that wants to act as if such things don’t or can’t happen. Every victim in the movie, as in real life, is left without a voice. Whether the feelings are based in reality or not, they feel as if there is no one to turn to, no one who will believe them over their attacker, and that their lives are now defined by the evil that was done against them. Because of this, we see the journeys of characters trying to regain their voices while the culture around them (whether for reasons of financial, religious, or social situations) does not pave much of a path for recovery. In light of this, we can easily see why so many people do not open up to such attacks or in many cases why they do so a long time after the fact. We are almost forced to empathize with people who do so only after receiving an opportune moment like the tapes released about Mr. Trump, because now finally the world will believe them.
I realize that I have made The Yacoubian Building sound like a movie about rape, which is far from accurate. Because there is so much sexual indiscretion and such lack of respect for the lives of others represented in the movie, it speaks very strongly to the America we live in at the present time. Nevertheless, director Marwan Hamed has created a much broader cinematic experience than this. More than anything, it is about the building itself, about the people who live there, the people who work there, and how the rest of Egypt is indirectly effected by the events that take place within the building. It is a powerful depiction of the reality that our decisions radically effect the lives of other people and that whether literally or metaphorically, whether directly or indirectly, narcissistic behavior always destroys lives.
“Stumble Alert:” Sexual themes abound in this movie, yet nothing is showed any more than to tell the audience what is going on. There is no nudity. In the most important rape scene, we see only the victim’s face. We see her anger, her fear, her disillusionment, her trauma, her pain. Because of this, I recommend anyone who has ever been the victim of such an attack to approach this movie with discretion. It is very intense and excellent for those of us who haven’t been through it, but perhaps too real for someone who has, as if living through it again. There is also a graphic terrorist attack much like what we see on the news on a fairly regular basis. If you are uncomfortable watching violence of this nature, you will know when it’s about to begin, and the transition at the end to the next scene is obvious enough from the sounds, that you can turn away or close your eyes through this scene and not miss anything.
Watch The Yacoubian Building: The movie can currently be viewed in its entirety here. Note though that a few of the subtitles in this version are obviously wrong, but the context of the story makes it easy enough to figure out what’s going on so that they aren’t distracting.