Friday Films: ‘The Water Carrier is Dead’ and ‘Land of Hypocrisy,’ Based on Novels by Yusuf al-Sibai

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:

saqqamatWhich is, in fact, this week.

This Friday’s films are The Water Carrier is Dead and Land of Hypocrisy, both by the Egyptian novelist Yusuf al-Sibai.

The 1977 film was directed by Salah Abu Seif and won “Best Film of the Year” from the Egyptian Film Association. Abu Seif also directed previous Friday Films: The Beginning and the End (based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz) and An Egyptian Citizen (based on the novel War in the Land of Egypt by Yusuf al-Qa’id).

The Water Carrier is Dead (Al-Saqqa Mat) was selected by the Arab Writers Union as one of the top 105 novels of the 20th century. While there isn’t an English translation of either of the two novels, al-Sibai’s The Cobbler and Other Stories (Cairo, Permanent Bureau of Afro-Asian Writers, 1973) was published in English, and al-Sibai also has a story in Egyptian Short Stories, a collection edited and translated  by Denys Johnson-Davies.

Al-Sebai served as Anwar Sadat’s Minister of Culture, and was assassinated in 1978. It was, further, the shooting death of al-Sebai that “sparked the battle of the Larnaca airport between Egyptian troops and the Cypriot National Guard,” according to a 1978 UPI report, which called him a personal friend of Sadat’s.

The Water Carrier is Dead centers around a friendship between a morbid water-carrier widower and a cheerful man who works in the funeral business.

Al-Sebai’s Land of Hypocrisy (1949), or Ard al-Nefaq, was turned into a film directed by Fateen Abdel Wahab and starred Shwikar and her husband, Fouad al-Mohandes, and leans the duo’s comic weight on government corruption and bureaucracy.

Previous Friday films:

The Mountain, based on a novel by Fathi Ghanem

Miramarbased on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz

A Touch of Fear, based on a novella by Tharwat Abaza

The Impossible, based on a novel by Mostafa Mahmoud

The Sixth Daybased on a novel by Andrée Chedid

The Land, based on a novel by Abdel Rahman Al-Sharqawi, translated as Egyptian Earth

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