The Night of Counting the Years: An In-Depth Analysis

My pain is the whole life I lived. A pain I cannot understand.

I stand in front of this mountain, incapable.

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Its silence fills me with anger but a portion of it belongs to me.

– Wannis, Night of Counting the Years

            Allusions to Cleopatra, the great Sphinx, the Pyramids of Gizah, the mummies, the Nile – they all lead us to remember one of the oldest civilizations that ever existed on Earth. For so many years, scientists, historians, and other experts has spent so much time to explore and recognize this wonderful stronghold of our history: the history of the Egyptian civilization. Scientists have sought all means to verify historical data that has been written on the walls of this civilization. Historians have painstakingly sought to document all discoveries and workings of this endeavor. Literary enthusiasts have drawn a vivid fictional world of Egypt in their workings. While Hieroglyphics can speak so much of this civilization, literary Laureates voluntarily took the responsibility of put in writing this history in their own languages. Shakespeare talked of Cleopatra in one of his tragedies and in the modern times, movies emerged to mark this civilization with their existence. As one of the most interesting civilizations of the old world, a lot of entities have taken interest in this curious spectacle of our history. Some hold beneficial intentions and most do not. Now, we can see the famous remnants of a rich civilization in the museums of their previous colonizers, as trophies of their successful conquests and capability to subjugate nations of different people.

            The Night of Counting the Years is one of the historical fictions that have taken into account the official discovery of the sarcophagi of great Egyptian rulers from different dynasties. Released in 1969, it is said to be the first Egyptian movie that has been shown in the United States of America. (Eder, 1975) It was set in 1881, the eve of the British colonial rule, in a place near the site of the Ancient Thebes. Here lives an ancient clan, the Horrabat, who, for generations, has stolen artifacts and ornaments from ancient tombs which then became a source of their living.

            The clan has done it for generations, and has lived by that occupation of selling stolen ancient artifacts to dealers of it. When the head of the clan dies, his to sons knows of this and refuses to inherit this occupation. One of them was murdered by their uncles and the other one, Wannis, once procrastinating, decided to inform the authorities about this scam and the soldiers transferred the sarcophagi to the city.

            Since technology is much needed in the earlier years of the previous century, we cannot expect the movie to be that glamorous and exact when it comes to showing a real picture. Watching the movie today, you would really get the “old feel” of it. However, the movie still used artful shots through different angles of the camera. The revelation of the family secret about the treasures during the head of the clan’s funeral was followed by an eerie exploration of the caves of Thebes. It has been shot as a picture with no other background than that of the sound of the blowing wind and the stagnant and silent emotion of anticipation of the two sons of the head of the clan.

            After the discovery, it has been followed by a discourse between mother and child, the eldest son, Salim’s articulation of disdain upon knowing the family secret. In the conversation between the elders, the eldest son and the mother, it is clearly shown that even that vilest of family traditions is strongly upheld by the family. Upon the eldest son’s refusal to carry on the tradition, he has been abandoned and cursed by none other than his own mother.

            Wannis, upon hearing this, went adrift to seek peace of mind, and probably to think of the predicament that he is into. The elders allowed him to come lose, thinking that he would only be finding himself. In his lurking, he found himself amidst a great confusion and discoveries. His drift seemed to have been a demonstration of the transition of his maturity. The actor who portrayed him clearly depicted the emotion of a person who has endured so much pain that is incurable.

            The conflict of the story mainly revolves around the problem of keeping the honor of the dead and preserving the generations-old culture of a family, and the pressing problem of the fact that these people have been stealing not just simple property of some sort, but the remnants of their own history. It is set upon the backdrop of a group of people trying their whole life to thrive upon the treasures of their dead and trying to manipulate shares among themselves. They never knew whose tombs were those. All they knew of it was that they never knew their fathers, their mothers, their sons or their daughters. For them, they are considered as mere wood and dust of the past. They are unnamed sarcophagi that only drifted in the leaves of history. The Hurrabat are a people who do not know or care about their heritage, the history of their own existence. What they did not realize was that, like these dead people who brought their riches with them to their graves, they would also die and leave the treasures that they once coveted as they lived.

            This conflict was transfixed to revolve around Wannis. In the resolution of this conflict, he was the most decisive. His move to inform the authorities, in a conversation that the moviemakers did not bother to include in the film, (when Wannis finally went to the city people’s boat, he introduced himself as the son and only heir of Salim, he was ushered into the house of the leader of the city people and the next clip after that was the unearthing of the sarcophagi in the mountain) both liberated himself, the people and the sacredness of their dead. And it was Wannis, the owner of the mountains, the one solely responsible, who made possible the Night of Counting the Years, which happened when they named the sarcophagi of Egyptian Pharaohs year by year.

The defamation of the remnants of their ancestors, who are actually the past famous leaders of Egypt, was only made more vivid when they were exhuming and naming each of the sarcophagi from the mountains. The scene of the exhumation of the tombs and the procession of the items has shown the beauty of deliverance. It was like winning a war. The dead represent the rich history of the past, the glories and downfalls of their race, from five different dynasties of their country. It is a celebration of a National culture that is more important than any of the needs of a certain number of people, and that is what the Hurrabat needed to realize, whether they still have the same culture as the ancient Egypt or not.

            The movie had great shots of the great historical and popular sceneries of Egypt: The Nile, the desert, the tombs of Thebes. The long streams of shots captured the message of the story well – it looked as if everyone is waiting for time to pass. The absence of scoring for most of the scenes represents a silence that only the dead can give. It blended well with the sound of the blowing wind and the occasional hooting of the ship that gave passage to the freedom of the dead. It is indeed important for the history of Egypt. Being set in the eve of colonization, another epoch in national history, they needed to look back and identify where they have been. The intentions of the city leader to preserve those artifacts served its best purpose, before their people finally begin to forget their past.

“‘The Night of Counting the Years’” often feels like years of counting the minutes. – New York Times (Eder, 1975, para. 9)


Al-Salam, Shadi Abd. (Director and Producer) The Night of Counting the Years. Egypt: General Egyptian Cinema Corporation

Eder, Richard. (1975, October 23) Night of Counting the Years (1970): ‘Egypt’s ‘Night of Counting Years.’ The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2009 from


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