Film Version of Idris’s “Chair Carrier,” Or: Egyptians, It’s Time to Sit Down!

This short film, directed by Tarek Khalil and based on Yusuf Idris’s classic short story, won best satire last fall at the American International Film Festival and then, this January, won a silver award in the student category at the California Film Awards.

Zeinobia posted about the film today, writing, “I think now it is perfect time so this Egyptian man sits on the chair.”

While Khalil’s film version of “The Chair Carrier” largely keeps to the same dialogue between narrator and chair carrier, it also layers on reports of an election, in which the president is re-elected by a nearly unanimous vote. This innovation draws connections to contemporary politics for the film viewer, who doesn’t have recourse to the internal monologues of Idris’s narrator.

Unfortunately, the acting isn’t as modulated as it could be, and the dialogue between the narrator and chair carrier seems to go too fast—we don’t get the same shift as in the text: from anger, to joy when the narrator finds that the chair carrier should be allowed to sit, back to anger, frustration, and questioning.

What’s also wonderful about Idris’s story, here in Denys Johnson-Davies’ translation, is the moment at the end when the narrator confronts himself. Faced with such obstinate chair-carrying (after all, chairs are for sitting!), what should he do?

Should I rush forward and topple the chair forcibly from his shoulders and make him take a rest? Or should I content myself with the sensation of enraged irritation I had for him? Or should I calm down and feel sorry for him?

Or should I blame myself for not knowing what the token of authorization was?

In the film version, the last sight is not of the narrator, but of the chair carrier, as we hear that the president is receving his “congratulatory messages” on his win. In this way, the chair carrying—and landslide elections—seem almost eternal, as though there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But in Idris’s story, the reader is left with the question: Should we blame ourselves for not knowing the token of authorization?


It would be interesting to see another translation of this story. Surely, some journal would like to publish, at this moment, a fresh translation of “The Chair Carrier.”

Dueling Translations of Yusuf Idris’ بيت من لحم

Dueling Translations of Yusuf Idris’ بيت من لحم