The screen adaptation of Yusuf Idris’s “House of Flesh,” crafted by celebrated Egyptian playwright and scriptwriter Lenin El-Ramly, was apparently rejected by Egypt’s state censor on charges that it “incites incest”:
“House of Flesh” is the titular story in Idris’s tenth short-story collection (1971) and has been translated at least twice into English, by Denys Johnson-Davies (translation here) and C. Lindley Cross (translation here). Its most compelling aspect is the powerful, poetic silences — visual and auditory — that surround the action. A widow and her three poor, unmarriageable daughters are cramped together in a tiny house, and all end up having sex with the widow’s new husband, a blind sheikh who is apparently fooled by the wedding ring, which can be moved from one hand to the next.
It opens, in Lindley Cross’s translation:
The ring, beside the light. Silence prevails, ears cannot see. In silence, the finger sneaks. It puts on the ring.
In silence, the light is extinguished.
Darkness consumes all.
In darkness, eyes cannot see. The widow and her three daughters. The house is a room. The beginning is silence.
As Lindley Cross notes in “Perspectives Behind Translating House of Flesh by Yusuf Idris,” Idris was known for explicitly placing sex in his stories from his earliest works; sex appears in the title story of his first collection, Cheapest Nights (1954) and continues all the way to a novella focused on an interaction between an Egyptian and an American prostitute in “New York 80” (1980). But, as Lindley Cross further writes, the sex is rarely central, and is instead a way of discussing other things.
According to Youm7 and El Watan, el-Ramly has changed his script version of “House of Flesh” in effort to have it approved. In this new version, only the youngest woman is the mother’s biological daughter, and that daughter refuses sex. The other two aren’t related by blood either to the widow or her new husband, getting around the “incest” charges.
This comes half a year after censorship authority head Abdel Satar Fathi said that Egypt’s film censorship board would stop deleting scenes, and then quickly backpedaled. He originally said on DreamTV that Egypt’s monitoring of films would be replaced with a rating and age-guidance system, but a few days later said that his comments were “taken out of context.”
Al-Ramly is no stranger to being censored for sexual content: His first filmscript, written in 1971, was written for director Salah Abu Seif. It was censored for 25 years before the film was finally produced in 2002 under the title of The Ostrich and the Peacock. It’s about marriage counseling, and the original title was School of Sex.
Read “House of Flesh”:
In translation by Denys Johnson-Davies
In translation by C. Lindley Cross
Lindley Cross: Perspectives Behind Translating House of Flesh by Yusuf Idris
“A Peace of Women,” trans. Hazem Azmy