Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: NYFF09 Movie Review: Al-mummia (The Night of Counting the Years aka The Mummy) (1969)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

NYFF09 Movie Review: Al-mummia (The Night of Counting the Years aka The Mummy) (1969)

by Tony Dayoub

Forgive me for posting a blurry still for this movie. It does not do justice to the stunning imagery of the Egyptian masterpiece, Al-mummia. Restored so beautifully by the Cineteca di Bologna in conjunction with Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation, Chadi Abdel Salam's picture looks absolutely breathtaking. And the new digital restoration captures the nuance of the shadowy cinematography effectively; the film was shot primarily in the twilight of the dawn and dusk. Coupled with the constant sound of the blowing wind, the lighting creates a disquieting mood of melancholy that mixes with the mystical atmosphere among the Egyptian tombs which serve as the backdrop for this haunting film.

The movie follows Wannis (Ahmed Marei) and his brother, members of the Hurabat tribe. They undergo a rite of passage after their father's death where it is revealed that the tribe has been surviving by selling antiquities from desecrated Pharaonic tombs. This shames them, and they refuse to take part, putting their lives in jeopardy. Wannis flees into hiding while he decides what to do, running into some unsavory characters, including Mourad (Mohammed Nabih), an assistant to the profiteer that his tribe was dealing with. His not-so-lucky brother is killed by men working for the Hurabat elders. Meanwhile, "city people"—including an antiquities expert—come to the area seeking someone that can lead them to the mysterious tombs that have been the source of all the recent artifacts showing up in the black market.

Though deliberately paced, the film's luxurious photography never fails to mesmerize. In fact, the pace contributes to the odd entrancement one experiences when watching it. In many ways, it could be compared to Cardiff's use of color in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947), a film that also addresses the commingling of the modern world with the mystical world of the past by using a heightened color palette at key moments.

Actor Marei's performance is understated, and must have been challenging considering the often long stretches of silence throughout the film. But he has those big long-lashed almond eyes that remind this writer of the silent film stars, eyes that communicate a great deal when dialogue cannot. And Marei's Wannis successfully rallies the viewers around him as he considers his dilemma: Should he blindly follow a tradition that has fed his tribe for ages, or should he reveal the tomb to the "city people" to redeem his tribe from the shame that has stained them in desecrating the dead?

The Night of Counting the Years is playing at the 47th New York Film Festival, at 6:15 p.m. Friday, October 9th, at the Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam), upper level, New York, NY 10023. For more ticket information go online here, or call (212) 875-5050

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