Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Pharaoh (orig. Faraon) 
Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema: [MSP Website] [Culture.pl]
Pharaoh (orig. Faraon)  [IMDb] [FW.pl]* [Culture.pl] [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Jerzy Kawalerowicz [IMDb] [FW.pl]* [Culture.pl] [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*, along with Tadeusz Konwicki [IMDb] [FW.pl]*[Culture.pl] [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*, based on the novel [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* by Bolesław Prus [IMDb] [FW.pl]* [Culture.pl] [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*) is an 1966 Oscar nominated (for Best Foreign Language Film) Polish "Speculative Fiction" / "Sword and Sandal" Epic that played recently here at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.
American / Western viewers will find similarities between this film and BOTH Hollywood "sword and sandal" epics being made at the time like the Charlton Heston starring Ten Commandments  (directed still by Cecil B. DeMille [IMDb]) and Ben Hur , the Kirk Douglas / Lawrence Olivier starring (Stanley Kubrick [IMDb] directed) Spartacus , and especially the Elizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton starring Cleopatra  AS WELL AS the later much beloved and becoming enormously influential Sci-Fi ("speculative fiction" / "space opera") projects like Gene Roddenberry's original StarTrek [1966-] [IMDb] television series and George Lucas' Star Wars [1977-] [IMDb] film franchise.
I write this because whereas the Hollywood "Sword and Sandal" epics listed above tended to be based on historical and/or bibilical texts, Kawalerowicz' / Konwicki's film, based on Prus' original novel (written in the latter part of the 19th century), was far more speculative / allegorical in nature, having at least as much in common with Gene Roddenberry's Star-Trek series as R. Burton / E. Taylor's Cleopatra . Set at the time of a fictional Ramses XIII (played in the film by Jerzy Zelnik [IMDb] [FW.pl]*), sometime in the 11th century BCE, the story is a study of the power politics of the time (and a more or less obvious allegory to the late-19th century / 1960s European present): There were two regional super-powers Egypt and Assyria. There were smaller states in between, notably Phoenicia and Israel (which the two "super-powers" sought to divide up among themselves), a state to the west already in Egypt's orbit (Libya) and "a distant realm over the horizon" (Greece) to which one of the characters during the course of the story actually defects. The Pharoah, who seeks to lead a modern and militarily powerful state, is also held back by a powerful (and wealthy as well as educated) inherently far more cautious / conservative Ra-worshiping Priesthood.
Add then that at the time of the filming, Egypt then under Gamal Abner Nasser was arguably a Soviet-bloc aligned client state (making filming there by a Polish film crew far easier than in years either before or after, though apparently most of the film was "filmed on location" in then Soviet Uzbekistan anyway, something that could be fascinating to American/Western viewers/readers in its own right). It all makes for fascinating consideration by Cold War / 1960s (as well as ancient) history buffs.
Finally, LIKE MANY OF THE FILMS BEING SHOWN IN MARTIN SCORCESE'S SERIES ON POLISH CINEMA, the Polish film studio, KADR, that has the rights to the film has made it available (with English subtitles - click the "cc" option) FOR FREE on YouTube. Honestly, WHAT A DEAL!
I do hope that soon enough there will come to be way for the film studio to make at least some money off of making its films available in this way (the Amazon Instant Video service generally charges $2.99 for rental of equivalent American movies like this). However, I'm VERY HAPPY that the film is available, LEGITIMATELY, for people to see, because IMHO it's well worth the viewing!
* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.
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