Return of the Prodigal Son, The (1976)

A meandering misfire from Chahine, this family conflict drama infused with superfluous sequences of song-and-dance fails to stir the senses in the way that his best works effortlessly do. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #2,289

Dir. Youssef Chahine
1976 | Egypt | Drama/Musical | 124 mins | 2.35:1 | Arabic
PG13 (Netflix rating) for some violence and sexual references

Cast: Mahmoud Al Meleji, Shukri Sarhan, Soheir El-Morshidy
Plot: After spending 10 years in prison, the political activist Ali returns home. His family is eagerly waiting for him, hoping that he will save them from the tyranny of his older brother, Tolba.
Source: Front Row Filmed Entertainment

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family Conflict; Idealism
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow/Meandering
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

I’m probably going against the grain here, but I found The Return of the Prodigal Son to be a slog.  I did complete it and there were moments in the film where I thought it might go somewhere interesting, either emotionally or psychologically, yet somehow the movie didn’t stir me at all. 

More charitable audiences might appreciate its biblical undertones and maybe the elaborate song-and-dance sequences that punctuate the film.  I disliked the latter, so indulgent and superfluous, and stretched out way too long to contribute anything meaningful to the narrative. 

A son who had been away for more than a decade charting a new life in Cairo (and served a significant amount of time in prison, possibly for staying true to his anti-establishment beliefs) returns to his home village where his doting parents, controlling older brother, and an array of extended family and relatives, including a potential suitor for marriage, await. 

“How many lost nights are there in twelve years?”

This return comes too late into the film I feel, a reason I think Youssef Chahine’s work felt meandering for much of its first hour. Prodigal Son operates as a family conflict drama at its heart, though at an allegorical level, one might see the return of the prodigal son as an elusive saviour that Egypt needed at a time of continuing sociopolitical unrest and autocratic rule. 

This thematic allusion to real-world politics doesn’t quite translate on an emotional level, nor does Chahine try to do so.  So we have to take it at face value, as a multi-generational family drama that explodes with its strained relationships, with a son who fails to live up to everyone’s expectations. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t invested in the narrative or characters enough to care about how the story might turn out.  A misfire. 

Grade: C

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