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Production description

Release Date: May 12, 1962
Film Company: Arab Cinema Company
Filmed in Egypt

This Egyptian cinematic production is an artistic re-creation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, placing it in the context of 1960s Egypt. In it, Sayyid Amin, a country farm owner, conspires with Dr. Hasan Shukri, a young veterinarian and guest on his land, to tame his ill-mannered, wily granddaughter, Amira, and have her wed.

 

Cast & Crew

Petruchio/Dr. Hasan Shukri: Rushdy Abaza
Katherine Minola/Amira: Lobna Abdel Aziz
Bianca Minola/Nadya: Madiha Salim
Baptista Minola/Sayyid Amin: Husayn Riyad
Lucentio/Lam‘i: ‘Abdel Mun‘im Ibrahim

Director: Fatin Abdel Wahab
Scriptwriter: Muhammad Abu Yusuf
Producer: Ramsis Najib

 

Further Reading

Yvette K. Khoury, “The Taming of the (Arab-Islamic) Shrew: Fatin ‘Abdel Wahab Re-frames Shakespeare’s Comedy for Egyptian Screen,” Literature-Film Quarterly 38.2 (2010): 147-163.

 

Alternative viewing options

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_wKUKCzWyk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZZo7Xpfypo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0_bfVI-vNQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQzuARJH174

 

 

Plot summary

Beware of Eve tells the story of Amira Amin (Lobna Abdel Aziz), the granddaughter of a wealthy farmer in the Egyptian countryside, Sayyid Amin (Husayn Riyad). An unruly and reckless granddaughter, Amira causes much grief to her grandfather and her sister, Nadya (Madiha Salim), who cannot marry her love, Lam’i (‘Abdel Mun’im Ibrahim), until Amira marries, Nadya being the youngest.

Hassan, a veterinary doctor, arrives on the scene to tend to the animals on the farm and quickly learns of the family situation. He teases and infuriates the high-strung Amira to her breaking point. She, in return, accuses him (falsely) of sexual assault. Her grandfather, knowing the truth of the matter, conspires with Hassan to have him marry Amira. On the day of the wedding, however, Hassan does not show. Amira, deeply embarrassed, confronts him at his home in her wedding dress. He refuses to marry her, but agrees to pretend that they have been married. They arrive late at the wedding party and announce that they are husband and wife. Hassan secretly tells her grandfather the truth, however, that they are not married.

Immediately after the wedding party is over and she and Hassan are alone together in a guesthouse on her grandfather’s property, Amira demands that they tell everyone the truth. He reminds her, however, that such a thing would be a great dishonor to her, and would suggest that the wedding was annulled due to her not being a virgin. Reluctantly, she decides to remain silent. After that first night, as the weeks pass, she repeatedly asks for a divorce, but he denies her request. He, in turn, refuses her food and a comfortable place to sleep and has her tend to the housework. She turns to her grandfather and begs him to help her get a divorce, but he reveals that he knows her secret, and that she cannot be divorced until she is married.

At the end of the film, Nadya and Lam’i marry. After their wedding, Amira’s grandfather pulls the ma’zun, or the officiator, to the side and asks that he marry Hassan and Amira officially so that they can get a divorce. The two are married, and Hassan prepares to leave. Amira demands that he follow through and divorce her. As he stands next to his car, ready to drive away, she pounds him on the chest and shouts, “Divorce me!” three times, then kisses him, giving in to her true feelings.

 

Commentary

This 1962 film starred Lobna Abdel Aziz (b. 1935) and Rushdy Abaza (b. 1926 – d. 1980) as Amira (Katherine) and Hassan (Petruchio). The two heartthrobs of the screen in Egypt and had co-starred in two earlier films, Oh, Islam (1961) and Bahiya (1960). Beware of Eve, however, was their first romantic comedy, a trend that continued as the two starred together in The Bride of the Nile (1964) and Disgrace (1967). The film adapts Shakespeare’s play to the Egyptian countryside of the 1960s, operating as a commentary and reflection on the public behavior of women in Egypt and emphasizing the traditional and legal role and power of men in Egyptian society.

The film’s first hint that Amira is an “untamed” and “unruly” woman comes at the beginning of the film, as she drives recklessly along a country road. Rather than slowing or moving aside for others, she lays heavily on the horn, shouts at passers-by, and eventually nearly collides with livestock at a crossing. Reckless female drivers, in fact, were a common trope in Egyptian theater at the time. The Unruly Woman, released in the following year, opened with its female star (Sabah) driving through busy Egyptian streets, throwing her head back in laughter, pressing the gas harder and harder with the police hot on her tail. The message was clear—women and cars did not mix well, and, in an Egypt where female drivers were an increasingly common sight, many probably saw the sentiment as timely. (And, in light of recent acts of resistance by women in Saudi Arabia on the issue, it seems its relevance remains potent to this day.)

In this opening scene, suggestions that Amira is inappropriately encroaching into traditionally male territory abound. After her car stalls and she opens the hood to see what is wrong, Hassan pulls over and offers to help, confusing her for a man. Furious, Amira retorts, “Do I look like I’m wearing a moustache?” As she says this, she wipes her upper lip in a gesture suggesting a moustache, not realizing that her oil-begrimed finger leaves a dark, black “moustache” mark across her face, further suggesting the ridiculousness of her attempted assumption of the male role. Hassan explains that it was a mistake, that he had only been able to see her pants, and had assumed she was a man. Amira responds, “Are men the only ones who wear pants?” Thus, in scene after scene, her failure to conform to cultural norms of femininity leads to her becoming the butt of joke after joke and highlight her comic unruliness.

The operative metaphor for Amira in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s play is not that of a shrew, but of an ass. Amira’s grandfather refers to Amira and Nadya as “the animals upstairs.” Hassan (as a livestock veterinarian), when Amira becomes ill, treats her in the same way he does the grandfather’s sick asses, even threatening to put a donkey bit in her mouth to force her to take her medicine if she does not comply. On her birthday, Hassan presents her with the gift of a toy zebra, and the joke is not lost on her or her friends, who laugh aloud, to her dismay. In the final scene, when Amira finally succumbs to her feelings and kisses Hassan, the scene cuts to a shot of braying donkeys, suggesting that the “ass,” Amira, has finally been tamed. As Yvette K. Houry points out in her review of this adaptation, this perhaps reflects on Katherine’s line: “Asses are made to beare, and so are you,” and Petruchio’s response: “Women are made to beare, and so are you” (2.2.1073-4). Thus, in the end, even after all of her protests, Amira “the ass” elects to bear the burden of marriage and succumbs to the “medicine” of Dr. Hassan, the veterinarian.

This is not to say, however, that the film is not without its subversive moments. The film’s adaptation of a climactic scene of Act 5, Scene 2 in the original play, when Katherine comes at Petruchio’s request, to the great astonishment of lookers-on, features a twist. In the film’s version, as Hassan lounges in the main house with guests, he orders Amira to change his shoes. Hiding her frustration, she runs outside and into the guesthouse to fetch his shoes, then runs back across the yard to Hassan, kneels, and removes and replaces each of his shoes. Outwardly, Amira appears to have adopted the advice of her counterpart in Shrew, literally “plac[ing] [her] hands below [her] husbands foote” (5.2.2735). In the presence of Hassan and his friends, Amira is charming, sweet, and obedient. At the end of the scene, however, Hassan and his friends depart, leaving Amira alone with his filthy work shoes, which she throws defiantly to the floor. Inwardly, then, she remains untamed. Thus, though the film is full of disturbingly sexist scenes aimed at humiliating Amira and making her a laughing stock, Amira herself remains a strong, resilient character, certainly not inwardly submitting to the severe sense of wifely duty suggested by Katherine in Shakespeare’s play.

In fact, Amira’s character bears similarities to other starring roles enacted by Lobna Abdel Aziz. In the film Disgrace (1967), she plays a young woman who enters the male Egyptian workplace, facing sexism, harassment, and mockery, yet ultimately persisting in her work. In other words, like this later film, though Beware of Eve ridicules the character of Amira, it manifests her resistance clearly on the screen and puts a “modern” Egyptian woman on the public stage. Thus, the film represents an important step in representations of women’s roles within the country.

References

Yvette K. Khoury, “The Taming of the (Arab-Islamic) Shrew: Fatin ‘Abdel Wahab Re-frames Shakespeare’s Comedy for Egyptian Screen,” Literature-Film Quarterly 38.2 (2010): 147-163.

 

 


Production information and commentary provided by David C. Moberly (dv.moberly@gmail.com), an English PhD Candidate at the University of Minnesota with interests in Arabic translations and performances of Shakespeare.

 

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    حواء / Ᾱh Min Ḥawā’ (Beware of Eve)

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