Depictions of the Devil in Egyptian Cinema and DramaAlrayes Omar Harb Interview with the Devil Safeer Gohannam The Ambassador of Hell The Woman Who Defeated the Devil Wanoos
The figure of the Devil has long been the subject of fascination in literature and cinema. From Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost” or Goethe’s “Faust” to Netflix’s “Lucifer”. He transcends time and cultures. Depictions of him vary from a villain to a sympathetic anti-hero to the protagonist. Likewise, in Egyptian cinema and drama, he has been a recurring figure often used metaphorically to highlight human weaknesses.
Another interesting part about the Devil in cinema is his appearance. Whether the visualisation is a classic hellish figure with red horns and fierce eyes, a handsome, seductive man, or a kindly grandfather, the depictions are as interesting in their differences as they are in their similarities, which is why we wanted to take a look into how the portrayals of this figure have developed across Egyptian cinema and drama.
Safeer Gohannam or The Ambassador of Hell (1945)
One of the earliest depictions of the Devil in Egyptian cinema lies in this 1945 Yusef Wahby masterpiece. Influenced by Goethe’s “Faust”, the film follows a poor family whose lives turn upside down after the Devil, played by Yusef Wahby, appears to them in the image of a handsome, rich man. He introduces them to a life of luxury and excess, only to take them downhill and into despair.
Maw’d Ma’ Iblis or Interview with the Devil (1955)
Ten years after the release of Yusef Wahby’s film, the Devil returns in Kamel El-Telmissany’s film, Maw’d Ma’ Iblis, where he appears in the name of Nabil, played by Mahmoud El-Meliguy, already well-known for his portrayals of villainous characters. Nabil appears to a poor doctor, promising him knowledge of his patients’ illnesses under one condition: The doctor gets to treat patients only with the Devil’s prior permission. A fascinating depiction of the Devil imbuing the character with his power over human lives and deaths in an attempt to play God. Echoing the German folk tale “Godfather Death”, the lead character is eventually not granted permission to treat a patient he desperately needs to heal, leading to his rebellion against the Devil.
The film closely follows the structure of the 1945 one with the main difference that it’s closer to the umbrella influence of “Faust”, where the Devil offers direct knowledge rather than just wealth, even if the knowledge in this movie eventually leads directly to the accumulation of riches.
El Mar’a Alty A’albt Al-Shaytan or The Woman Who Defeated the Devil (1973)
The Devil, played by Adel Adham, follows a female lead in this masterpiece by Yehia El Alami. A despised maid leading a life full of poverty and unrequited love turns to the Devil’s grandson to exchange her soul for ten years of beauty and money. Impressive in its depiction of a female character with an activity that surpassed all main male characters of the previous movies on the list, as she’s the one who goes to the Devil with full awareness of what she’s doing.
Alrayes Omar Harb (2008)
This one is a little trickier than the rest, as The Devil isn’t an explicit character in the film. However, the depiction isn’t merely metaphorical, since it’s strongly implied that the casino puppet master, played by Khaled Saleh, is the actual Devil. The director, Khaled Yusef, has also indicated that this was his intention with the character. The film follows the character Khaled, played by Hany Salama, as he applies for a dealer vacancy at a casino and watches his life tumbled down after he’s accepted and is forced to change on all levels: ethically, socially, and psychologically.
The latest important depiction of the Devil in Egypt is also the only TV series on this list. But that isn’t the only way Wanoos differs from the other entries here. Instead of depicting the Devil as a handsome young seductive man, the showrunners chose to portray him in the image of a kindly grandfather-type. Brilliantly played by Yehia Al-Fakharani, the character of Wanoos completely unravels the lives of the family of the “Faustian” character, who didn’t live up to his end of the bargain. The show also flirts with the “sympathetic anti-hero” depiction of the Devil, where we get scenes of him showing his side of the equation and laying ahead his tragedy of damnation with no promise of salvation.