Cairo: Since it was released for public showing earlier this month, the Egyptian war film ‘Al Mamar’ (‘The Passage’) has been a major crowd attraction and the talk of the nation.
Directed and written by Sharif Arafa, famous for action thrillers, ‘The Passage’ sheds light on the so-called War of Attrition or military operations mounted by the Egyptian army against Israel after it occupied Egypt’s Sinai in the 1967 Middle East War.
The War of Attrition, which included Egyptian commando raids against Israelis, was unleashed months after Egypt’s 1967 defeat by Israel and was aimed at raising the traumatised nation’s morale. That war raged on until August 1970 when Egypt accepted a US plan for a ceasefire with Israel.
“The war of Attrition has rarely been presented in the Egyptian drama although it was the prelude to the October victory,” said entertainment critic Shafiq Sobhy, referring to Egypt’s 1973 surprise attack on Israelis.
“That war restored confidence to the Egyptians after the disgraceful defeat on June 5 ,” Sobhy told Gulf News.
“The Passage’ tells the story of Nour (Arabic for light), an Egyptian army officer anguished by the Sinai defeat in 1967. The officer, played by Egyptian film star Ahmad Ezz, is assigned by his commanders to set up a group of soldiers to lead them in a raid on the Israeli military in Sinai.
“Makers of the film have succeeded in engaging the audience in the action that is interwoven with touching humanitarian tales of the protagonists,” Soby said. “This was accomplished in a highly professional way in terms of visual effects, acting and executing the battle scenes. The expressive score by talented composer Omar Khyrat has enhanced the underlying message of the film: nations should not lose hope even in the darkest times ‘The Passage’ represents a milestone in the history of the Egyptian cinema. So, it has attracted cinemagoers from different ages and boosted their feelings of national pride,” he added.
‘The Passage’ reportedly cost 100 million Egyptian pounds (around Dh22 million), making it the most expensive production ever in Egypt’s cinema industry.
The film hit the local screens during the Eid Al Fitr holiday, usually a time for light comedies and action flicks. Nevertheless, the film went to become a box office hit, grossing more than LE30 million in the first two weeks of screening, according to market monitors.
Producer Hisham Abdul Khaleq confirms that he did not mean ‘The Passage’ to be a commercial project. “I produced it to celebrate the army and its sacrifices,” Khaleq said at a recent private screening in Cairo.
“I also produced it for the new generation who did not live in the time of war and know nothing about it.”
For Khaleq, the film was a dream come true. “I had long wished to make a military film. It’s the least we can offer in honour of our martyrs in Sinai,” he added.
Dozens of security forces have been killed in militant attacks in recent years in Sinai, a hub for terrorists.
Preparations for ‘The Passage’ began in 2016 in conjunction with the army that provided logistical support, including military hardware and locations, according to Khaleq.
The actors also received rigorous training for two months inside an army camp before filming began.
“The work is an adventure, which was not calculated. But it’s a film that one makes once in life,” said Khaleq.
Paradoxically, the public showing of ‘The Passage’ coincided with the 52nd anniversary of the 1967 defeat.
“Whether this was deliberate or not, the film is a must-see for every Egyptian, especially the young people, because it authentically shows that the Egyptians are able to overcome difficult times,” said Maher Hassan, a father of three.
“When I saw the trailer of the film and its reference to the War of Attrition, I felt it is a work different from other films that either ignored this war or were superficial in dealing with it,” the 56-year-old man added. “Therefore, I decided to go with my family to see it. Neither of us has regretted the decision.”
Young audience were impressed too.
“The film is artistically interesting. It includes action, suspense, human drama and even comedy. All this is presented in a professional cinematic vision that uses Hollywood-like technology,” said Yasser Mahmoud, a 29-year-old engineer.
The makers of the film recruited the service of a US team of experts in executing the battle scenes.
Over the past weeks, the film crew have been showered with plaudits at galas that several political parties and television stations gave in their honour.
The picture has generated massive online praise too. “It’s a wonderful work. It is so realistic that I smelt the gunpowder while watching it,” an Egyptian man named Ashraf Saeed, said in a tweet. “Our youth today need to see such films that tell the tales of real heroes, not those of drug dealers or belly dancers,” commented another.
Javier Aguirre, the Mexican manager of Egypt’s football national squad, reportedly showed some parts of the film to his players to infuse them with enthusiasm ahead of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations that the Pharaohs hope to claim for a record eighth time.
‘The Passage’ is due to be shown in the Gulf later this month.