(Al Momia, Egypt/1969) by Shadi Abdel Salam
Written by Shadi Abdel Salam. Editing: Kamal Abou El Ella. Director of Photography: Abdel Aziz Fahmi. Music: Mario Nascimbene. Set Design: Salah Marei. Production Company: Egyptian General Cinema Organization. Starring: Ahmed Marei (Wannis), Ahmed Hegazi (Brother), Zouzou Hamdi El Hakim (Mother), Nadia Lofti (Zeena). Running time: 103’. Colour. Language: Arabic with French/English subtitles. From: Egyptian Film Centre.
Restored in 2009 by the World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory.
Momia, which is commonly and rightfully acknowledged as one of the greatest Egyptian films ever made, is based on a true story: in 1881, precious objects from the Tanite dynasty started turning up for sale, and it was discovered that the Horabat tribe had been secretly raiding the tombs of the Pharaohs in Thebes. A rich theme, and an astonishing piece of cinema. The picture was extremely difficult to see from the 70s onward. I managed screen a 16mm print which, like all the prints I’ve seen since, had gone magenta. Yet I still found it an entrancing and oddly moving experience, as did many others. I remember that Michael Powell was a great admirer. Momia has an extremely unusual tone – stately, poetic, with a powerful grasp of time and the sadness it carries. The carefully measured pace, the almost ceremonial movement of the camera, the desolate settings, the classical Arabic spoken on the soundtrack, the unsettling score by the great Italian composer Mario Nascimbene – they all work in perfect harmony and contribute to the feeling of fateful inevitability. Past and present, desecration and veneration, the urge to conquer death and the acceptance that we, and all we know, will turn to dust… a seemingly massive theme that the director, Shadi Abdel Salam, somehow manages to address, even emobody with his images. Are we obliged to plunder our heritage and everything our ancestors have held sacred in order to sustain ourselves for the present and the future? What exactly is our debt to the past? The picture has a sense of history like no other, and it’s not at all surprising that Roberto Rossellini agreed to lend his name to the project after reading the script. And in the end, the film is strangely, even hauntingly consoling – the eternal burial, the final understanding of who and what we are… am very excited that Shadi Abdel Salam’s masterpiece has been restored to original splendor. –Martin Scorsese, May 2009
Notes on restoration
The restoration of Al Momia used the original 35mm camera and sound negatives preserved at the Egyptian Film Center in Giza. The digital restoration produced a new 35mm internegative. The film was restored with the support the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.