Pirouettes and Pyramids

If you've only time for one Egyptian musical (five examples of the genre are on view at the Walter Reade March 24 through 30), your best bet is Anwar Wagdi's lively and charming Dahab(1953), featuring precocious child star Fayruz, Egypt's Shirley Temple. She portrays a young girl abandoned on the street who sings and dances her way to fame. Fayruz is brasher than Temple, tougher, less doll-like— and, at the tender age of 10, capable of a mean belly dance that will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows. Irresistible horse-faced veteran comedian Ismail Yasin appears in drag with her in Dahab's most elaborate production number.

The lovers in Ahmad Diya' al-Din's Every Beat of My Heart(1959) meet cute— she's a drunken driver who runs him over and breaks his leg. It's clearly meant to be charming— she does it again for the comic finale. In between, there's a dead load of dull plot peppered with a few klutzy dance numbers— there was no Egyptian Busby Berkeley. On the plus side, Every Beatdoes offer some hauntingly beautiful songs composed by Muhammad Fawzi, who also stars as the luckless leading man.

These two films date from the so-called golden age of the Egyptian musical. During the 1960s, when production was nationalized, the genre declined and remained moribund until the 1990s. Khairy Bishara's Ice Cream in Gleam(1992), the most recent work in the series, features Amr Diyab, one of Egypt's most popular contemporary singers, as a warbling rebel. Although hailed as a harbinger of a revival of the genre's glory days, it's little more than a slew of youth-movie clichés trotted out in unimaginative music-video style.

 
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