Pharaoh (film)


Publicity still
Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Written by
Music by Adam Walaciński
Cinematography Jerzy Wójcik
Edited by Wiesława Otocka
Release dates
  • 11 March 1966 (1966-03-11)
Running time
175 minutes
Country Poland
Language Polish

Pharaoh (Polish: Faraon) is a 1966 Polish film directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and adapted from the eponymous novel by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus. In 1967 it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[1] It was also entered into the 1966 Cannes Film Festival.[2]


Jerzy Kawalerowicz, who had previously directed such films as Cellulose (1953), Under the Phrygian Star (1954), The Shade (1956), The Real End of the Great War (1957), Night Train (1959) and Mother Joan of the Angels (1961), turned in the 1960s to Bolesław Prus' novel Pharaoh because, he said, "There are brilliant things in it.... The drama of power in Pharaoh is incredibly topical and contemporary. The mechanics don't change all that much."

Kawalerowicz's co-author of the scenario, Tadeusz Konwicki, commented: "It's not a historical novel in the full sense of the word, it's above all a penetrating analysis of a system of power.... The story of Ramses XIII is a typical example of the actions of a young person who enters upon life with a faith and need for renewal. He does not yet know anything about higher reasons of state, he has no interest in the laws governing the complex apparatus of power. It seems to him that he is the person to change the existing order of things."[3]


Pharaoh's production took three years, beginning in the fall of 1962 with the setting up of a studio in Łódź which did in-depth studies of the costumes and realia of life in ancient Egypt. Filming took place in Europe, Asia and Africa. Most of the indoor scenes of the pharaoh's palace, the temples and the Labyrinth were shot at the Łódź studio. The Warsaw River Shipyard built an Egyptian ship according to drawings from 4,000 years ago. An artificial island was created on Lake Kirsajty, near Giżycko, Poland, and planted with palms and lotus for the scene involving Ramses' row on the Nile with Sara.[3]

Mass scenes were filmed mainly in Uzbekistan's part of the Kyzyl Kum Desert. The crew spent nearly five months there, working in very difficult conditions—at the height of summer, the noon temperature exceeded 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit); the temperature of the sand, 80 degrees Celsius (176 Fahrenheit). Film stock had to be kept in cold storage. A very vexatious thing was the ubiquitous dust. Every day, 10,000 bottles of mineral water were delivered to the shooting location. Hazards included sand vipers and venomous spiders that launched themselves at people from a couple of yards' distance.[3]

Some scenes were filmed at authentic Egyptian locales. For example, the scene in which Prince Ramses learns that his father Pharaoh Ramses XII has died and that he has now become Pharaoh Ramses XIII, takes place against the backdrop of the pyramids of Gizeh; but the crowds of tourists and the present-day appearance of the area made it near-impossible to find good takes. One of the many consultants on the film was Poland's Professor Kazimierz Michałowski, a world authority in Egyptology. Another was Shadi Abdel Salam, an Egyptian film director and costume designer, who had consulted on the 1963 Cleopatra.[3] Abdel Salam was the costume designer for Pharaoh.

In adapting Bolesław Prus' novel to the screen, the film's producers made a number of notable decisions. One was to keep the film in a predominantly golden-yellowish register and to almost completely eliminate bright colors; bright foliage appears only once—in the scene with Ramses and Sara on the Nile.[3] During the military maneuvers that open the film, an incident has been introduced that does not appear in the novel, involving the wrangling down of a horse. Near the movie's end, High Priest Mefres is dispatched by the Keepers of the Labyrinth not with a chloroform-like substance, but with a rope looped around his neck and pulled tight by its ends, several yards apart. Pharaoh is among 21 digitally restored classic Polish films chosen for Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.[4]


See also


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