Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Yacoubian Building (movie review)

This was a university event, with PSU's Marvin Kaiser providing some context. The Hollywood movie theater near Sandy and 42nd was packed.

The Black Studies Department is celebrating over 40 years at PSU and was co-producing this event, given Egypt is in Africa.

I was chauffeured by Dr. Tag, who'd been in a meeting with Dean Kaiser earlier that same day.

The film is in Arabic, is highly melodramatic, ambitious, and is translated well. Dr. Tag was both taking in all the idioms (she's seen it before in Jordan) and reading the subtitles to see what I might be getting.

Although I studied Arabic at Princeton and my parents lived in Egypt for many years (where I visited, more than once, wandered Cairo quite a bit), I'm no good at it.

Arabic has no upper and lower case versions of each letter (like in English or Greek), but the letters do get written differently depending on where they occur in a string (beginning, middle or end).

This came up in conversation because I was talking about my thread on math-thinking-l about capital Greek Sigma, its meaning in math. Check this month's archives.

My parents had a 9th floor apartment downtown, not far from the Nile and Meridian hotel.

Mom worked with the Zabaleen, took me down there, showed me around. Dad worked with the Ministry of Planning.

Dr. Tag asked for a quick one-liner after the film, what did I think? "Just shoot me" I said. She thought that was funny.

Turns out she's a fan of Yousra, who played pianist Christine in the film, once got to see her in person at a United Nations event at a Sheraton in the outskirts of Cairo. Tag was fresh from Yemen (work related), staying at the Cairo Marriott. Yousra and Adel Imam (another star in this film) were serving as good will ambassadors for the UN at that event.

The movie is fairly recent and sparked a lot of controversy apparently. You get some really biting stereotypes, featuring various hypocrisies and predicaments. Some audiences were offended and called for a ban, is what I'm told. Not every neighborhood wants to show this film, for various reasons.

Portlanders seemed to take it in stride though. We're a worldly bunch. Having PSU, PCC and others bring these academic showings out to the neighborhoods (no admission charge) is both generous and smart marketing.

Our city is cosmopolitan by dint of strong planning, not just by geographic accident (or so I might boast). We parked near Old Library Studio, which teaches multi-track audio recording to teens. Jimmy Lott the musician and I attended a few classes there, years ago.