War dramas are tricky productions. They may be heavily one-sided, lacking objectivity in order to glorify or demonize one side over the other. The latest Israeli drama, Image of Victory, revisits the 1948 war between Egypt and Israel. Although it attempts to avoid the one-sided bias trap, it ends up creating an epic politically correct version of the Egyptian side of the war, regurgitating much of the Nasser-era leftist propaganda.
According to one report, the film highlights both Israeli and Egyptian heroism, with actor Amir Khoury portraying real-life Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, an aspiring photojournalist on the frontlines who was pressured by his government to create the “image of victory” and not report on the true losses and costs of the war.
It is indeed refreshing to see an Israeli movie portraying the Egyptian army as being well organized and heavily armoured, disciplined, and well-mannered by respecting the rules of engagement. However, watching an Israeli film resurrecting views expressed by the late Heikal, as if they are sacred undisputed facts, is surreal and unsettling. The film’s script embraced the spirit of Heikal, who despised the late King Farouk of Egypt, by making the Egyptian part of the film look like a resurrection of 1950s Egyptian melodramas, with a full and unapologetic demonization of the king.
In an effort to create a balanced look to the film, director Avi Nesher opted to adopt a popular Egyptian narrative: that the Egyptian monarchy sold out its soldiers. However, this is a mythical concept that lacks solid evidence, as researcher Chloe Bordewich highlighted in her latest piece. The need to battle the narrative of the 1948 war is not new, and blaming the king has become the prevailing narrative since he was ousted 75 years ago. No, the Egyptian army was not fully prepared to fight in Palestine. Yes, a PR machine sold the public a rosy picture of the war, at least in its initial stages. However, one can argue that those same gross errors were repeated in the 1967 defeat, 19 years after the ousting of the king.
The director, who supposedly believes “in doing extensive research” and that “the more truthful it is, the more entertaining,” made a far better decision to stick to narrative of the capturing of Kibbutz Nitzanim, instead of delving into the myth of bad king versus honourable army.
The movie also opted to sanitise the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in the war as well as the growing resentment between the army and the brothers. It created the role, played by actor Ala Dakka, of an Egyptian “firebrand” who believes in the cause for which he is fighting. How convenient!
Moreover, how can a movie labelled as the “most expensive Israeli movie ever” and whose director takes pride in doing extensive research fail to make its characters speak with a correct Egyptian accent? All the actors in the movie speak with a mediocre accent that does not even remotely resemble an Egyptian dialect. They sound alien and silly. Are there no dialect coaches in Israel?
With its flawed take of Egyptian history and ridiculous Egyptian dialect, Image of Victory was neither truthful nor entertaining. In a long conflict, like the Arab –Israeli conflict, embracing decontextualized history and playing loosely with facts are the last things needed. Image of Victory may have good intentions, but it is a flawed politically correct drama that is neither objective nor accurate. The circumstances behind Egypt’s defeat in the 1948 war should trigger an internal debate within Egypt, not entice an Israeli drama to enforce a lazy version of events.