Friday Films: ‘The Land,’ Based on a Popular Novel by Abdel Rahman Al-Sharqawi

Every Friday, ArabLit suggests a new classic film-book combination — for you to watch and read — until we run out of steam about 20 weeks in:

A 2005 reissue of the English translation.
A 2005 reissue of the English translation.

This Friday’s movie is the 1970 film Al-Ard, directed by Youssef Chahine, based on a 1954 novel by Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi (1920-1987). I was translated into English as Egyptian Earth (1962) by Desmond Stewart. 

Sharkawi graduated from law school in 1943, in the midst of World War II. After that, he worked as a lawyer, a civil servant, a journalist, and later as a script-writer for a film company. He was also the author of more than two dozen books and the secretary-general of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization.

According to the LA Times, Sharkawi’s poetry “came to international attention” after he published a poem, “From an Egyptian Father to President Truman” in the 1950s.

The film and book both focus on the plight of the peasants in a small village in 1930s Egypt, exploited by a powerful local landowner. From the book summary:

A 12-year-old boy returns from his school in Cairo to find his village torn by feud and fear. A corrupt official has ordered the peasants to irrigate their fields in five days, instead of the customary ten – a demand which threatens to disrupt the whole life of the village.

A schoolmaster, Sheikh Hassouna, urges the villagers to rebel. But it takes many attempts, some disastrous, others comical and touching, before they join forces and stand against their oppressors.

Set in the 1930s, Sharqawi’s novel was first published as al-Ard in 1954 – two years after the Egyptian revolution – and appeared in Desmond Stewart’s excellent translation in 1962. It has also been translated into French, Russian and other languages….

The film digs into the contradictions and complexities in people’s responses to oppression; the Harvard Film Archive calls it, “One of Chahine’s most enduring classics[.]”

Previous Friday films:

Al-Harambased on a novel by Yusuf Idris

I’m Free, based on a novel by Ihsan Abdel Quddous

A Beginning and an End, based on the novel by Naguib Mahfouz

For Bread Alone, based on the novel by Mohamed Choukri

Gate of the Sun, based on the novel by Elias Khoury

The Dupesbased on Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun

Diary of a Country Prosecutor, based on a novel by Tawfiq al-Hakim

Adrift on the Nile, based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz

A Nightingale’s Prayerbased on a novel by Taha Hussein.

 Kit Katbased on the novel The Heron by Ibrahim Aslan, available in translation by Elliott Colla.

The Egyptian Citizen, based on Yusuf al-Qa’id’s award-winning novel War in the Land of Egypt

The Lamp of Umm Hashem, inspired by a novella by Yahia Haqqi