Land, The (1969)

This is feisty if sometimes way too melodramatic filmmaking from Chahine as he pits poor and frustrated peasants against the rising tide of self-serving capitalism.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,276

Dir. Youssef Chahine
1969 | Egypt | Drama | 130 mins | 1.66:1 | Arabic
PG13 (Netflix rating) for some sexual references and partial nudity

Cast: Mahmoud Al Meleji, Nagwa Ibrahim, Ezzat El Alaili, Hamdy Ahmed, Ali El Sherif
Plot: A small peasant village struggles against the careless inroads of a large local landowner amid sociopolitical unrest.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Source: Front Row Filmed Entertainment

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Rural Villagers; Tradition; Capitalism
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

I kinda wanted to like The Land as much as I enjoyed The Blazing Sun (1954) and Cairo Station (1958), but there is something about its filmmaking that is a double-edged sword—it’s feisty and very spirited, yet also sometimes way too melodramatic—though this could be said of the two other films I mentioned as well, just that I find this style more palatable in black-and-white mode. 

The Land is my first Youssef Chahine film in colour, and for most parts, what I love about it is the witty banter between the different characters.  One might say they—these poor and frustrated peasants—are lively caricatures of a close-knit group of farmers working hard to harvest their crops.  It’s a period film, set in the 1930s with Egypt under British colonisation. 

“They abandoned the land. And so, the land abandoned them.”

Suffering from irrigation issues caused mainly by physical disruptions to the land as a result of a rich landowner’s decision to modernise the location by building a new road that leads to his mansion, this tight group of peasants slowly divide under lines of selfish personal interests, even as some of them take the route of the collective. 

Chahine, as always, gets lively, sometimes larger-than-life, performances out of his ensemble cast. If you are into ‘land epics’, of folks and their fervent connection to their land as they sing songs about their joys and sadness, then The Land should whet your appetite, particularly if you are looking for something less arthouse and more accessible. 

As a tale of encroaching modernity disguised as self-serving capitalism against the traditions and deeply-held beliefs of the rural people, The Land is a decent account of the opposing internal forces that would slowly wake the country up from its colonialist slumber.   

Grade: B

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