MY OWN COMMENTS
How to describe the Dupes surely one of the most important and innovative films to emerge from the Middle east? If you cross Clouzot’s Wages of Fear with the revolutionary zeal of the Third Cinema movement then you might find yourself on the right track. This monumental film was produced by Syria and represents them in the MUBI world cup. Rather than being purely a Syrian film The Dupes is a beautiful mixture of Arabic cinema. Tewfik Saleh is Eygptian, the author and the protaganists are from Palestine and the film is largely set in the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait. Never has a film questioned Arabic identity in relation to Palestine and the hopes and aspirations of its own people. The film is arguably as relevent today. The Iraq war, ongoing Israeli / Palestine conflict Syria on the brink of civil war, goverments in the region toppled and civil unrest accross the area.
Asthetically this film is mesmerising and beautiful to look at. From the first shots tracking through the forest, the jump cuts, documentary footage interwoven with drama, extreme close-ups, the
overexposed b/w photography highlighting the bright sun blasting the desert we can see this is a film like no other. Saleh was from a new Egyptian school of cinema along with Salah Abouseif, Youssef Chahine and Said Marzouq.They turned their back on the musical melodramas which were so popular in Egypt and created a new more socially aware, challenging fresh cinema. This is by far the most revolutionary piece of work to come from that collective. The fragmentary tour de force approach the film takes, is unlike other arabic films of its generation and is more akin to the cinema of Latin America such as Glauber Rocha, Gutirrez Alea and Humberto Solas. Through his style Saleh opens up new possibilties and a new cinematic language unseen in Syria and the Middle East. The likes of Omar Amilraly and Usamma Mohammed would follow in the Dupes footsteps creating rich textured films. Syrian film is one of World cinemas best kept secrets and it truly deserves to be reappraised.
The Dupes not only challanges the viewer artsitic sensibilities, but also challenges our political beliefs. Often the middle east conflict is seen as Israel and the west versus Arab countries. Saleh questions this belief and rather focusing on the unjust and despicable actions of israel, he focuses on the lack of solidarity bewteen the arab neighbours. The palestianian refugees are unwanted. Fellow arabs do not want to help them but to gain from them finacially sending them to their deaths in the deserts of Iraq. The idea that the Arab world in large has been responsible for the suffering of its own people is radical and highly contraversial. But lets look at the middle east today Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, the Assads and how they have responded to the Syrian people, or the Armies response to the protests in Egypt. While it is easy to burn the U.S flag or blame Israel’s occupation on Palestine as the keys problems in the area their are far reaching serious issues in the middle east caused in part by the lack of unity bewteen the states. In saleh’s films the characters are swindled, robbed and finally led to their deaths by their own people. A damning indictment of failed policies throughout the years.
Saleh also critiques masculinity in the middle east. Women play a secondary role here and no female character is fully developed. What we do see here are some interesting contrasting male characters all victims of a political system struggling to find their identity. The older traveller is forced and humiliated into going to Kuwait to look for work leaving his young family. The second traveller is eager to travel and earn his money, but is forced to beg for money to travel in return for a marriage to a woman he dislikes, and the third traveller a boy who is also forced to look for work after his father abandons him, his mother and small brothers. All three male characters are forced into their situations by honour and duty. The men are not free and are bound by poverty and their need and others expectations to support their family. The only character who frees himself is the boy’s father who exchanges his family for a rich disabled wife. He gets the house he has dreamed of and freedom in life but at what cost? losing his family, dignity and honour. And what of the driver? Castrated by an explosion in war. His masculinty amputated and he himself believs he would be better of dead. Ironically he is the only charcater who survives.
The Dupes is a magnificient film on so many levels and even if one does’nt want to delve too much into politics the final scenes of the characters trapped in the lorry are some of the most suspensful in cinema which left me truly devastated unable to speak or process my emotions for hours. Truly revolutionary, heartstopping cinema of the highest calibre.
TELEVISION DISCUSSION ON THE DUPES (very informative!!!)
EYE FOR FILM REVIEW
Tewfik Saleh’s award winning film, The Deceived, aka The Dupes (its commercial English title and a less accurate translation from the Arabic), is about three desperate, dirt-poor Palestinians: Abu Qais (Mohamed Kheir Helwani), an ageing peasant; a youngish man named Assad (Bassam Lutfi); and Marwan (Saleh Khalki), a teenager. These men, initially, are strangers to one another, and have each decided to try to slip into Kuwait in search of employment. The movie is based on the novelist and poet Ghassan Kanafani’s early Sixties prescient novella, Men In The Sun.
Though the action takes place in the late Fifties, a time when Jordan still controlled the West Bank, the movie itself was lensed, roughly speaking, during the “era of regrettable events”, or Black September, as it became known. It is useful to recall that the late King Hussein, diminutive in stature, but long on the CIA’s payroll, felt compelled during this period to order his British-trained armed forces to massacre thousands of Palestinian refugees, under a perceived threat of the takeover of his kingdom by the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
This is a highly political movie (it was, after all, funded by Syria’s National Film Organization, at the beginning of Hafez El Assad’s reign), with an unsparing point of view (excepting, of course, Syria), which, much like the novella upon which it is based, presents a complex situation through a combination of both realistic and allegorical techniques. To be honest, its analysis of the Palestinian question is overly simplistic, treating the loss of Palestine as something of a moral issue, resulting in part from a lack of national virility.
Yet it is deeply empathetic about people who are desperate enough to risk their lives in search of a better existence. Saleh also explores the motivations of an individual odious enough to take criminal advantage of his compatriots. This somewhat ambiguous character, a Palestinian-betraying Palestinian, is the main dramatic counterpoint of the film. Abul Khaizuran (Abdel Rahman al-Rashi), once a heroic resistance fighter during the Nakba (which is how Palestinians refer to the creation of the state of Israel), is now literally emasculated (from a sort of Jake Barnes war wound), and reduced to supporting himself as a smuggler of illegal laborers.
The Deceived is divided into two main parts of equal length.
During the first half of the movie, allusive plot and memory driven sequences, that probably take place in the West Bank (exact locales are not specified), show the inevitable breakdown of Palestinian family structure in the face of unrelenting occupation, UNRWA-dependency, and hoped for exile to a distant, asymptotic Paradise, which in some sense is Palestine regained.
Saleh splices in documentary footage of farcical potentates, such as Farouk the First (and, mercifully, last), or antediluvian ones, such as Ibn Saud, attending international “peace” conferences. There are glimpses of the compromised Palestinian leader, Amin el-Husseini (a hero to some, who was also viewed as an early British collaborator, then a Nazi pawn), mufti of Jerusalem (it is hard currently to take these sort of titles seriously), during the period of the so-called British Mandate.
By virtue of this documentary footage, the Egyptian director hints at the unpleasant reality of ineffectual, powerless, corrupt or uncaring Arab regimes and leaders pathetically capitulating to the loss of Palestine, which, at the risk of overstating, led to its virtual nullification as a historical concept in the West. He also fulfilled the Syrian political agenda at the time, naturally pissing off more than a few neighboring Arab countries, which promptly banned the film upon its release.
A blazing sun opens the film. A man is seen walking in the desert. There is a cut to a scene with the same man sitting with a friend amidst a grove of palm trees and comparing the smell of mud to his wife’s freshly bathed hair. This is meant to be flattering, and can even be touching, if you consider his limited background, forget the hip heart of stone that modernity confers, and allow yourself to plug into the somewhat obvious symbolism.
Saleh’s narrative technique in this first segment is to interleave the three strands of his protagonists’ personal stories. This is initially disorienting (no pun intended), as there are also alternating scenes set in Basra (Iraq), which contrast the desert scenes with a huge waterway filled with ships and lateen-sailed riverboats.
Each of the protagonists is trapped in some manner. Poverty and lack of work and the humiliation of living in a camp hem in Abu Qais. Assad is facing the prospect of a prearranged marriage. Marwan has to deal with the consequences of his suddenly weekend (again, no pun meant, honest) father selfishly abandoning his large family to shag up with a well off, yes, one-legged woman.
The film’s tautly riveting second half is set in Basra, where the three men have ended up. Saleh here adopts a more conventional linear narrative structure, and is on surer footing in terms of pace. After some discussion, the three men, who have now met up, decide to go for broke, and put their lives in Khaizuran’s hands to drive them safely drive them to fabled Kuwait, the Promised Land. This is during the blazing heat of August, and they must hide inside the steel tank of a ramshackle water lorry when passing two border checkpoints.
As usual, no overt spoilers in this space, but I will say that the final scenes of the movie are particularly devastating.
One of the first Arabic features to treat this complex and highly emotional subject matter, The Deceived contains little by way of platitudes. You will not encounter here any dewy-eyed illusions about the fundamentally rapacious side of human nature. It explores facets of the Palestinian experience of victimisation, yet eschews didacticism, and avoids the easy out of cloying sentimentality to which a lesser director might have succumbed.
Saleh’s precursive influence is clearly evident in subsequent movies, by Palestinian directors themselves, such as Michel Khleifi’s scathing Wedding In Galilee (1987), or Elia Suleiman’s oblique Chronicle Of A Disappearance (1996), which present varying critiques of the failure of Palestinian society to hold on to its normative identity, not to mention, patrimony.
For this reason alone, and despite its primitive black and white cinematography, and less than memorable score, The Deceived is a pioneering movie that is worth seeing if you are interested in Palestinian cinema – a disenfranchised people’s refusal to be silenced or rendered invisible.
MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
“The Dupes” unflinchingly damned the entire enterprise of Arab solidarity vis-a-vis Palestine. It remains one of the very few artistic documents to express unabashed doubt about the actual support of Arab states for the Palestinians.
Based on Ghassan Kanafani’s first novella “Men in the Sun,” “The Dupes” brings together three men – Abu Kais, Assad and Marwan – who represent three generations, or rather half-generations, of the Palestinian experience. All decide to seek out money and freedom in the Gulf.
Abu Kais is a middle-aged man with a young family to feed. Assad is a young adult who can’t but be regarded as a trouble-maker. Marwan is an adolescent who has been made the man of the house by his father’s abandonment.
The three men meet in Basra after a harrowing journey across the desert of Iraq. To cross the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border without papers, a man named Abu Kheizarane offers to smuggle them inside his water truck – for a fee. The men must hide inside the sealed tank – an air-tight oven – as the truck crosses the frontier. Desperate and with no other options, the men agree.
All goes well on the Iraqi side of the border cross. On the Kuwaiti side, however, the border guards will have none of Abu Kheizarane’s haste. They delay him with questions and demand he show fealty. They stall, prattle and preen. When Abu Kheizarane finally procures their approval to pass, it is too late. In the end, he dumps the three dead bodies on a trash heap in Kuwait.
The film’s allegorical power can’t be overstated. Three Palestinian men are offered a container – an emblem, if you will, of a refugee camp, a rump state, Gaza. That container is promised as a temporary conduit to lasting freedom but it turns out to be hell, an inferno, a death trap.
The artist Fareed Armaly has previously pointed out the key difference between the film and the novella on which it is based. Kanafani’s text was published before the stunning Arab losses of 1967. The film was shot in Syria in 1972.
In Kanafani’s text, the men do not knock on the sides of tanks before they die. The story ends with Abu Kheizarane agonizing: “Why didn’t they knock? Why?” In Saleh’s film, however, the men do knock, and loudly, but the air-conditioning buzzing in the border office drowns out the sounds of their distress. The final shot in “The Dupes” is of Abu Kais’ dead hand, fingers curled into knocking position.
“The Dupes” is the only one of Saleh’s films to be picked up regularly as festival fare, usually in the context of Syrian or Palestinian cinema. Seeing in it the context of his own oeuvre, one understands that “The Dupes” isn’t a one-off. Rather, it is the crowning achievement of a career worth reviving much more often.
Tewfik Saleh was born on 27 October 1926 in Alexandria. He lived in Wingate St. in Bulkeley, a district that was heavily populated with foreigners of different nationalities.
Despite his father’s discouragement, his love for cinema started since childhood. He would sneak out to the cinema every Sunday to watch a new movie. Moreover, his fluent English and French enabled him to establish relationships with the foreigners who lived in Alexandria and who were also interested in the cinema. But it seems that he had a clear target very early on because he was particularly infatuated by the role of the director. That is why he read a lot about directing, its different schools and the most important directors.
After graduating from Victoria College in Alexandria, he earned a BA in English Literature from Alexandria University in 1949. He eventually moved to Cairo to study directing but there was no academic institute that taught cinema. That is why he helped in founding the Cinema Institute later.
He went to France in 1950 on a scholarship to study the art of cinema. He also worked as an assistant director in three French films. More importantly, his sensibility was enriched in France because he did not limit himself to studying cinema but also took up painting and photography, and frequently visited André Lhote’s studio. It was also in France that he had his first encounter with Russian literature, especially Dostoyevsky’s oeuvre.
He came back to Cairo in 1953, but with a different outlook and an enriched sensibility. Another important factor that shaped his consciousness was his new friendship with Naguib Mahfouz. Through this friendship, he came to know more about Old Cairo, its details and the people that inhabit it.
He wrote in collaboration with Naguib Mahfouz his film debut Fools’ Alley (Darb el mahâbîl) and directed it in 1955. The film basically exposes the greed, materialism and opportunism of an alley’s inhabitants who chase a mentally retarded homeless person after he won the lottery.
It took Saleh another seven years to direct The Struggle of Heroes (Sirâ’el abtâl) in 1962 set during the cholera epidemic of the 1930s. The epidemic was not only a disease that ravaged the village but it also evoked the peasants’ ignorance, and the self-serving interests of the aristocratic landowners.
The Rebels (el Moutamarridoun) in 1966 was set in a sanatorium where the discrepancy between the conditions of the first–class privileged patients and the third-class ones was glaring. The unprivileged patients rebel and take charge of the sanatorium. At the beginning, they create just conditions, but the rot soon sets in and their utopia falls apart.
He wrote and directed El Sayed el Bolti (el Sayyed el Boltî)in 1967 based on Saleh Morsi’s novel The Alley of Sayed el Bolti. The film, which deals with the struggle of poor fishermen against a monopolist, was shot in El Ma’adiya in Alexandria.
Saleh often had a hard time with the censorship. His films produced by the film organization El Sayed el Bolti (el Sayyed el Boltî)and The Rebels both had to wait two years until their release. In the case of the The Rebels (el Moutamarridoun), the censor understood Saleh’s The Rebels (el Moutamarridoun) as an allegory of Nasser’s regime and consequently the film was banned for two years. As for El Sayed el Bolti (el Sayyed el Boltî), the censor used a scene of two young women waxing their legs to postpone the release of the film (Shafik, p. 137).
His next film, Diary of a Country Prosecutor (Yawmiyyât nâ’ib fi-l-aryâf), based on Tewfik el Hakim’s novel, is counted among the best adaptations.
Saleh, who often came up against censorship and bureaucracy, was turned down by the private sector and had great difficulties realizing his plans in the public sector, and decided to leave for Syria in 1969 to seek foreign production. . It was there that he directed The Dupes (el makdu’un), an adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s acclaimed novella, Men in the Sun. The Dupes (el makdu’un) is one of the first Arab films to address the Palestinian predicament. It presents the pathetic story of three Palestinian refugees who want to make their way across the border into Kuwait in search of employment. But because it is quite difficult to obtain an entry visa, they strike an agreement with a truck driver to smuggle them illegally by hiding them in the steel tank of his truck. Their attempt is doomed to fail for they die inside the tank in the scorching heat at the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. The film received critical acclaim and collected many awards, among which are the Golden Tanit at Carthage Film Festival in 1972, the First Prize from Strasbourg Festival in 1973, the First Prize from the International Catholic Centre in Belgium in 1973 and Lenin’s Peace Award from Moscow Festival in 1973.
In 1973, he moved to Iraq in order to teach cinema at Iraq’s Radio and TV Institute and its Art Academy. During his stay, he managed to secure funding for his feature film, Long Days (el ayyam el tawîlâ), from the Iraqi Theatre and Film Organization. He returned to Egypt in the mid 1980s to teach at the Higher Film Institute.
Despite the fact that Saleh is not a prolific director, his films have left their mark on Egyptian and Syrian cinema. His films Fools’ Alley (Darb el mahâbîl) and The Diary of a Country Prosecutor (Yawmiyyât nâ’ib fi-l-aryâf) are counted among the classics of Egyptian cinema and The Dupes among the classics of Egyptian and Syrian cinema.
His love for literature is clear, for most of his films are adaptations of literary works. The Dupes (el makdu’un), based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novel Men in the Sun, and The Diary of a Country Prosecutor (Yawmiyyât nâ’ib fi-l-aryâf), based on Tewfik el Hakim’s novel, are obvious examples. He also had a strong friendship with the poet Salah Jahin and the novelists Youssef Idris and Naguib Mahfouz. In fact, most of his friends were from the literary rather than the cinema circles.
Saleh the scriptwriter and director, who always worked behind the camera, was to appear once before the camera in Youssef Chahine’s film Alexandria Again and Forever (Iskandariyyah Kamân we Kamân).
The output of this eminent committed Egyptian set him apart from the commercial cinema of his country. His intellectual vision coloured his oeuvre for all of his films deal with social injustice, underdevelopment, political abuse, ignorance and the class struggle. That is why he was deservedly awarded a first-class Sciences and Arts Decoration from President Abdel Nasser in 1967, the Tunisian Medal for Cultural Distinction in 1988 and the State Appreciation Prize in 1996.
… the final scenes of the characters trapped in the lorry are some of the most suspensful in cinema which left me truly devastated unable to speak or process my emotions for hours.
Yeah I second that. The second half of the film is a fine piece of cinema, exquisitely crafted; but my memory of the first half is now somewhat faded (having viewed it a few months ago), so I ought to see it again soon.
Thanks for linking the Television Discussion video!
There’s not much more to say, Kuxa kind of nailed it all. I saw this film in a Cultures Through Films class at university, i was very happy to see it on the WC and to watch it again. Such a beauty!
Bump for this thread!! I am really surprised by some of the so so ratings for this film…. Out of all my selections for the WC this is the film I am most passionate about.
After reading all of this I’m thinking of bumping my rating up a star.
The disorienting nature of the first half seemed a little too disorienting for me, but the sense of tension between a few guys and a truck does lend itself to comparisons to Wages of Fear. I’d be hard pressed to think of a film where the sense of literal heat seems more palpable.
Yeah the last 20 minutes or so was pretty intense.
Riss I think the first half of the film in hindsight is better than the second half. A rewatch when you have time would be advisible. I missed a lot of the smaller details from the first part on my my first watch due to trying to piece together what was happening. The third story of the young boy is particularly dazzling in technique and narrative structure. Wages of fear is the obvious reference point for the Dupes, but this film has a political agenda which is pursued through the innovative filmmaking and to me this film is a distant cousin of the Cinema Novo, and the Third Cinema movement in Latin America.
I wonder if a srt file with the English subtitles is available out there. The film is virtually unknown in the Spanish language world and I would like to do a translation.
I don’t think there’s an srt English subs file unfortunately.
This is a terrific write up thanks, I ws very interested in it and it expanded on a lot of what I was thinking and wondering about while watching (I am a watcher first, reader second). Yes very Wages of Fear-ish at times. I was searching for more mention of the allegorical/symbolic aspects of the film and explanations around that – there are the obvious ones like the metal tank being offered as a conduit to better things but only leading to hell like so many duplicitious offerings by so many usurpers and “negotiators” throughout history, everywhere any lands have been commandeered and peoples displaced and the loss of male identity when disenfranchised from a dignified existence and experience in the castration of Kheizarane. What was the quite significant inclusion of Selim the teacher from Jaffa who couldn’t pray but could shoot about I wondered, constantly talked to by Kaiss in his imaginings, and the talk of the two rivers referenced several times then brought up by Kaiss to Kheizarane while they waited for Marwan and Asaad.
Anyway the film seemed littered with representations and symbols to the point of not feeling like a literal narrative at all but something above and beyond. I thought it was quite a wonderful film and looking back on it also feel more interest and admiration for the complexities and artistic accomplishments of the first half than the straightforward narrative of the second, tense tragic and compelling though that was.
It feels quite remarkable to me that about the time Tewfik Saleh was in Syria making this film I was in a kibbutz in the Negev desert working for the Israelis, I was about 15 travelling with my older sister we worked in the orange orchard and worked in a factory making knives and forks we got paid $12USD a MONTH. (Plus board and keep)