To filmer, en egyptisk og en marokkansk, bryter konvensjonelle normer for hva man kan vise på film. Den egyptiske «The Yacoubian Building» er samfunnskritisk. Den marokkanske,» MaRock», vil bare vise historien om livene til noen ungdommer fra velstående lag. Begge prøver ikke å forstille seg, men skildrer virkeligheten som den er. Det provoserer mange.

The Yacoubian Building,» due out later this month, exposes many uncomfortable truths facing Egypt today: Islamic extremism, official corruption, police brutality, and class and gender inequalities.

With internal and external pressure on the Arab world to liberalize, movies are becoming a key outlet of free expression and a format for examining evolving mores. Like activists, journalists, and bloggers who have been testing the boundaries, movie directors are also pushing the limits of openness and influence.

«Things are moving in the Arab world and people are becoming more and more aware of the importance and vitality of having freedom of expression, so cinema would definitely reflect this,» says Cherif el-Shoubashi, the head of Cairo’s International Film Festival.

Based on a best-selling book of the same name, «The Yacoubian Building» weaves together the narratives of several characters, including an Islamic militant, a corrupt businessman, and a gay journalist. It tells the story of contemporary Egypt and all its problems through the tenants of the Yacoubian Building, an actual structure in downtown Cairo. An elegant residence built in 1937 to house Cairo’s bourgeois elite, the building has fallen into decay by the 1990s, when the film is set.

«It’s far more frank and controversial than movies we have seen until now,» says Egyptian critic Mary Ghadban. This was the movie’s goal, the film’s creators say. «This is not a simple love story, where you have your popcorn and coke and go home. This is a shocking movie. The film is saying ‘wake up, there’s something wrong,’ » says Producer Emad el-Din Adeeb.

Egypt later til å være et samfunn som knaker i sammenføyningene. Mubaraks gjenvalg har utvannet en hardt tiltrengt reform. Ting går fort nedover.

When Egyptians see this film, they will have to reconsider their lives and how not to make the same mistakes again,» says actress Youssra, who stars in the film and is so well known that she has dispensed with a last name. «We need to be shocked to realize how badly things are going backwards and how quickly things are going backwards.»

Også regissøren uttrykte seg slikt i et intervju P.A. Christiansen hadde med ham i Aftenposten. Men hvis det står så ille til i Egypt må man lure på om det kan skje dramatiske ting.

Det er interessante å se det at det lages slike filmer i tilknytning til debatten om Muhammed-tegningene. I Vesten var det mange som ropte opp om at man må vise hensyn og være forsiktige. Nå er det kunstnere i den arabiske verden som gjør det stikk motsatte: De tester grensene.

The film chronicles the lives of rich Casablanca teenagers who drink alcohol, smoke hashish, and make out in cars. It breaks a whole list of cinemagraphic taboos. The heroine Rita refuses to fast during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and has a relationship with a Jewish boy.

Well before the film came out in cinemas, it was already part of the ongoing debate between Morocco’s secular and liberal forces and its Islamist groups. The film’s supporters have championed it as evidence of growing freedom of speech.

«In Morocco in 2006 a lot of things happen that aren’t talked about and that aren’t shown, that may be contrary to Islamic laws and social conventions,» says Mr. Karim Boukhary, a writer for a French-language weekly news magazine, . «We don’t talk about these things because they’re taboo, because we’re afraid. This movie contributes to provoking a debate. And it’s a justified and salutary debate.»

Two Arab movies push the bounds of cultural candor