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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Film Review: The Night Baghdad Fell


Director Mohammad Amin

I just saw Mohammad Amin's film Laylat Sokoot Baghdad (The Night Baghdad Fell). It's an Egyptian comedy about the effects of the American invasion of Iraq on Egyptians who live in fear and anxiety that they are next. The main character, a headmaster of a school, decides the only way for Egypt to protect itself is to develop a deterrance weapon. Since the higher ups don't seem to be doing anything about it, the headmaster decides to do it, or rather to get one of his former genius students do it. So throughout the film, we see Tarek, the unappreciated genius, trying to invent a weapon that will thwart an American invasion. The CIA of course is watching closely and eventually interfers to abort the inventors' attempts. But it's a comedy and a happy ending is a must, no matter how farcical it is.

The movie was two hours, way too long. It had some good gags. The crowd laughed. I laughed. I won't deny it.

But the sexual politics of this film are retarded retarted. The military weakness of the Arabs in front of the Americans is figured, predictably, as sexual impotence of men. Yes, the men in the film are so defeated, so anxious, so terrified of American military might that they can't perform in bed. Then one woman finds a solution: she dons on a marine fatigue and her husband gets it up. The idea catches on. So it's not enough that the defeat of Arabs is figured as a male defeat, the women are seen, again figuratively, as "the enemy." But the problem is not only that Egyptian men are impotent, but that they are feminized: American dominance is translated on the screen into sexual dominance of Arab men (this is not hinted at; it's quite explicit). In one key scene in the film, at a moment of frustration and defeat, the main character shows them that now that they have failed in inventing a weapon, they can only go on their knees in front of the invading Americans, raise their hands, and say in English: "Please, do not f@#$ me." Everybody does that repeating the sentence after him. Women are violated sexually by the Americans in male fantasies: it's really more about the men watching the women abused and not being able to do anything about it.

And if you even wondered if Condi Rice can belly dance, you may want to go see the film. She is at the center of not one, but two wet dreams of one of the main characters.

After the screening, the director took some questions. I asked him, in Arabic, why he figured the military weakness as sexual weakness, particulary of men since that shows that the defeat is really affecting the men and not the women.

His answer was that he did that because men are usually the "doers" (al fa3eleen). Not necessarily, I said. He said something about our "eastern" culture ... I tried to tell him that I am "eastern," but I don't think he heard me.

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