In an instant we know we are in Mexico City. Down the alley a historic Cathedral is there to anchor the area’s souls. The locals bustle in its shadow. Yet, it’s more the bar in the center of the neighborhood that is ground zero of this story—a parade of the locals in the style of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz’ book upon which this story is based. They drink, they make merry, have angry drunk moments, wax poetic, tease and gamble. Some have yearnings to be anywhere but here.
Eqypt or Mexico—it’s terrain where corruption mingles with pure of heart, innocents collide with jaded, and the economics of survival drives many a character’s actions. Some want money as a way to buy love. Some give love, or a permutation of it, in order to get money.
We meet a husband who prefers young boys, with a wife eager for a sentimental commemoration of their 30th Anniversary. We meet a son chafing to get out from under his father’s thumb, and into an imagined utopia in the USA. We meet a ravishing beauty whose fate hinges on how she chooses to leverage her beauty for love or economic gain. Poets, pimps, hustlers, and more—it’s a parade of personalities whose combined stories work to define place.
MIDAQ ALLEY based on Work by Egyptian Nobel Prize-Winning Writer
If you come to this film more familiar with Mahfouz’ pen—and especially the Cairo Trilogy, perhaps his most famed works—you too might find it somewhat astounding that this Egyptian novelist’s exquisite ability to define the intersection of people and place can take root in Mexican culture. Midaq Alley does exactly that, in this writer’s view, by artfully distilling the parade of local personalities into something more cinematically digestible. Three characters’ stories are used as chapter-like focal points. You are tickled into admiring smiles as the screenwriter repeats moments in these different stories, with different camera angles helping to convey different POVs. Main characters becoming minor characters, and vice versa. More than a cinematic device, these changing camera angles and repeat dialogue moments come off like an informative sign language we intuitively understand.
For those of us who missed the much prize-winning Midaq Alley when it first launched in the mid-90s before Salma Hayek was THE Salma Hayek, this film has a curious circa now note. In this movie, young Hayek plays a beauty assailed by older men out to exploit her. Did sexual predator Harvey Weinstein first spot Hayek in this film and imagine himself as the contemptible (SPOILER ALERT!!) pimp who brings her down?
If you love films for storytelling power this is a top pick. This writer thinks you would never want to choose between the film, or the book, but rather see one as the invite to luxuriate in the other. If you prefer films with loads of special effects in lieu of story, this probably isn’t for you.
Directed by Jorge Fons
Produced by Alfredo Ripstein hijo
Written by Vicente Leñero (screenplay)
Naguib Mahfouz (novel)
Starring Ernesto Gómez Cruz
Music by Lucía Álvarez
Cinematography Carlos Marcovich
Edited by Carlos Savage hijo
For more information and to watch this film, visit the MIDAQ ALLEY webpage on Ovid.tv.
Images courtesy of Ovid.tv.