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Lost in Translation: A look back at the Arab world’s obsession with remaking “The Godfather”

DUBAI: Remakes of Western TV shows and movies are all the rage in the Middle East these days and given the hype around ‘The Offer’, which dramatizes the making of iconic film ‘The Godfather’, we throw a look at Arab filmmakers’ attempts to remake the movie Mafia.

“The Offer,” now streaming on OSN+ in the region, follows film producer Albert Ruddy as he battles to bring the cinematic masterpiece to the big screen.

Considered one of the greatest films ever made, 1972’s “The Godfather” is about an Italian mafia family led by Don Vito Corleone, played in the first of a trilogy of Marlon Brando films. Corleone decides to cede his empire to his youngest son Michael, played by Al Pacino. However, his decision puts the lives of his loved ones in grave danger.

Scroll down for Arab critics’ ratings on Middle Eastern remakes of the Mafia cult classic.

Not only was the film influential in the West, but it also inspired filmmakers and production houses in the Middle East.

In 2015, the late Syrian director Hatem Ali created an Arabic version of “The Godfather” for television titled “Al-Arrab” and even borrowed the iconic logo from the American film.

The two-part series, “Al-Arrab: Taht Al-Hezam” and “Al-Arrab: Nady Al-Sharq,” featured Jamal Soliman, Bassem Yakhour, Basel Khayat, and Amel Bouchoucha, but was it good?

Essam Zakaria, Egyptian critic and artistic director of the Alexandria Film Festival for Mediterranean Cinema, thinks not, describing it as “an inferior production. The story and details are not convincing.

According to Saudi film critic and actor Baraa Alem, one of the reasons some remakes fail is that they lack the cultural references of the productions they are based on.

“When you take something that’s internationally acclaimed…you can’t expect me to totally forget about it and get the story from your side again as a new story,” he said. he declared.

“You talk about ‘The Godfather’ and we remember Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, and whoever you’re going to put there will never have the same emotional charge that we have for those characters. You can take the theme and remake it, but you can’t take the cultural aspect, which is why I find it so difficult for a remake to succeed.

Lebanese critic and writer Jamal Fayad said the challenge was to take the production from a film to a TV show.

“The difficulty of turning a movie into a 30-episode series makes the script not boring,” Fayad told Arab News.

“We can take a movie and remake it into a movie; a series and make it a series,” he explained. “But, for us, to change a film and make it a series, it will take a lot of the joy out of the script because the writer will be forced to lengthen the scenes. He will reach a point where he will create new scenes and that could spoil the production.

“The production was good and the actors are all veteran stars from Jamal Soliman to all actors with him,” Fayad said. “I think director Hatem Ali, peace be upon him, was amazing. He has always been exceptional.

That same year, “The Godfather” was turned into another Arabic series – also called “Al-Arrab” – starring Salloum Haddad, Assi El-Hallani and Mustafa El-Khani and directed by Syrian filmmaker Muthanna Sobh.

“In both parts of ‘Al-Arrab’ that have been made, the story has developed and it’s not recommended in drama. It’s either that we get the same screenwriter and he can expand the story in its own way, either we don’t remake the film in series,” Fayad said.

Another work inspired by “The Godfather” is the 1991 Egyptian film “Assr El-Qowa”, directed by Nader Galal and starring Egyptian icon Nadia Al-Gendy. But Zakaria described it as “not good at all”.

“Both (the 2015 series and the 1991 film) in no way live up to any of the parts of the original production,” he said.

When he spoke to Arab News about “Assr El-Qowa”, Fayad replied and said he was a fan of Al-Gendy and his work.

“The best thing about Nadia Al-Gendy is that she has found a niche in the industry that has made her the most successful,” he said. “In all of her works, she portrayed strong women who can stand against men. Despite this, she never rehearsed her characters and always performed new roles.

Context matters

Critics agreed that context matters when it comes to remaking international classics.

Zakaria, who is also a professor in the film department of the American University in Cairo, told Arab News that remakes can only be successful if their creators add “something that will affect the society” on which they are based.

“They find a successful American or Western film and they want to steal its success, but they don’t always have something to add,” he said.

“Writing is the hardest part of production. So they shorten this stage, which is considered the most important, and start working after the writing process. It’s laziness sometimes (and) not make enough effort to look for regional ideas.

Zakaria said a rare example of a successful transition to Arabic was the Egyptian film “Om El-Arousa”, based on the 1950 American film “Father of the Bride”.

“When they transformed it, it became like an original Egyptian movie,” he said. “If the team doing the remake is creative, skilled, has ideas and a vision, that will be fine. But, if it’s done out of laziness just to make a movie or a series, the result is the inferior productions that we see.

Meanwhile, the latest Arabic-language remake – Shahid’s “The Killing”, based on the hit Danish crime show of the same name – has also received a warm reception on social media.

Set in Cairo, the show, which stars Syrian Bassel Khayat and Egyptians Riham Abdel Ghafour, Bassem Samra and Salma Abu-Deif, follows a police investigation into the murder of a young girl.

Remakes versus original narration

While it’s understandable that studios in the Middle East are drawn to revamping films that have already been successful elsewhere, industry insiders largely agree that original storytelling is the way to go.

“I always encourage my friends who write and the writers around me in the Arab world to look for new ideas and find original content that could come from our culture because we have a lot of stories that are not yet told” , said Alem.

“We have a heritage and stories. We also have imagination and we have the ability to fantasize and create new worlds and new characters… not just depend on the success of things that have been done in the West,” he added.

Fayad takes a middle line, stating that remakes can work if writers take the general idea of ​​the story and weave it into something original.

“In this case, we’re building on the idea with a new script, a new story and new scenes. It’s more successful and more compelling,” he said.

Critics turn candid

We asked critics to rate Arabic remakes out of 10 to help you decide if they’re worth watching.

“Al-Arrab: Taht Al-Hezam” and “Al-Arrab: Nady Al-Sharq”

Critics’ rating: 5/10

“Al Arrab”

Critics’ rating: 5/10

“Assr El-Qowa”

Critics’ score: 6/10