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Film / Pharaoh

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Pharaoh (Faraon) is a 1966 film from Poland, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz. It is an adaptation of the well-known 1895 Polish novel Pharaoh by Boleslaw Prus.

It is set in Egypt in the 11th century BC, during the reign of Ramses XII (a fictional character; the last real Ramses was Ramses XI). The protagonist is his son, the crown prince and future Ramses XIII (Jerzy Zelnik). Young Ramses is charismatic and ambitious, filled with grand plans for the future of Egypt. It's a difficult time for the kingdom, which is deeply in debt and faced with threats from Assyria and Persia. Ramses decides that the answer is to make war on Assyria and re-fill the nation's coffers by conquest. In this he is opposed by Herhor, who is both high priest and commander of Egypt's main army. Herhor and the priests are the forces of reaction and conservatism, opposing Ramses's plans and competing with him for influence over the king.

The younger Ramses has a rather messy personal life. He adopts as a mistress Sarah, a Jew, much to the disgust of his mother, Queen Nikotris. Later he gets another mistress in the person of Kama (Barbara Brylska, The Irony of Fate), a Phoenician princess.


  • Adapted Out: The Greek mercenaries and their commander, Patroklos, are missing from the adaptation.
  • Ancient Egypt: And not a good time for ancient Egypt, either, with the country in debt and the economy struggling and the monarchy battling the priests for power and influence.
  • Artistic License History: As noted above, the story invents a couple of fictional pharaohs, the Ramses line having ended with Ramses XI.
  • As You Know:
    "What's the menace, may I finally know?"
    "Beroes...Beroes...The counselor of princes and the king of Abyssinia?"
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Ramses XIII gets the standard crown and staff, but not before returning home upon the death of his father and getting angry at a priest for wearing the crown in his absence.
  • Bald of Evil: All the priests have their heads shaved clean and don't wear any wigs. All but Pentuer are corrupt at best, malicious on average.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid:
    • The army is on the march when two dung beetles, aka sacred scarabs, crosses its path. Herhor the high priest insists on making the whole army take a time-consuming detour rather than cross the path of the scarabs. Prince Ramses is appalled. (Although this originated with a 19th century novel, it fit in pretty well in 1960s Communist Poland.)
    • Herhor in turn exploits the ignorant superstition of the people, passing off a Convenient Eclipse as the wrath of Osiris, and defeating the popular rebellion against the priests formented by Ramses.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Samentu eats a handful of poison when he is caught by the priests while sneaking into the labyrinth.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: The very first shot is a tight close-up of the sun-baked desert. The close-up is held as two dung beetles wander into frame, rolling a ball of poop from right to left across the screen.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: How Tutmosis meets his demise, being stabbed In the Back by one of his men when trying to arrest Herhor. He lives long enough to chuckle about his fate, realising he should see this coming.
  • Brownface: Everyone, as a bunch of very white Poles are made up to look like Egyptians.
  • Convenient Eclipse: Herhor has an ace in the hole that Ramses doesn't know about. His people know that a total eclipse of the sun is coming. Herhor claims this to be the wrath of Osiris, and scares the people into abandoning their rebellion.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The darkness of eclipse isn't achieved by filming at night, but by filming the related scenes in black-and-white. In the digital restoration of the film, some colour was added, but so heavily desaturated, it still appears mostly black-and-white, while also much darker than the original version.
  • Downer Ending: Ramses is defeated, and assassinated by the priests. Egypt is doomed to decline. The film omits the latter portion of the book, in which Herhor succeeds Ramses as pharaoh and hypocritically spends the priests' treasury in a doomed attempt to execute Ramses' reforms.
  • Driven to Suicide: A Jewish slave has been digging a canal by hand; his master has promised freedom to the slave and his family if he can make the canal work. Herhor has the canal filled in so the army can pass. The slave hangs himself.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For Herhor and Ramses in the opening scenes. Herhor diverts the army because two dung beetles crossed the path, instead filling in a canal dug by a Jewish slave—thus establishing him as both excessively pious and uncaring towards the little people. Ramses is appalled by the diversion of the army for such a ridiculous reason, and he has the canal re-dug after seeing that the slave killed himself. He is thus established as both rational and compassionate.
  • Fade to Black: Unlike the book, which keeps going even after Ramses is assassinated, the film concludes with his loyal troops and supporters awaiting for him to came out of the palace doors, with the camera slowly zooming closer toward the portal, until all there is in the frame is the darkness inside the palace. Cue end titles.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The opening sequence concludes with the army making the crest of the hill and seeing the enemy. Ramses then leads his men into a charge, running pell-mell at the enemy shield wall—which parts to let him pass. The "enemy" is actually the rest of Ramses's army, and they're all out on maneuvers.
  • Fanservice: Ramses's lovers Sarah and Kama are not over-burdened with clothing. Nor are the Fanservice Extras. Or his last lover, Hebron. In general, this film has more fanservice nudity than just about anything else being made in the mid-1960s, even in Europe.
  • Godiva Hair: Part of Kama's nonstop Fanservice routine is wearing nothing but bikini bottoms and an elaborate wig with strategically placed hair.
  • Greedy Jew: Dagon the Phoenician, who agrees to loan Prince Ramses 15 talents for his campaign against the Assyrians, but at an interest rate of 5 talents per year, requiring Ramses to pay back 30 in three years.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: In her last appearance Kama, lacking her ornate Godiva Hair wig, is settling for covering her breasts with her hands.
  • Honey Pot: Kama is sent to Prince Ramses by the Phoenicians for the express purpose of getting Ramses to back the Phoenicians and attack Assyria.
  • Identical Stranger: Lykon, a Greek (also played by Jerzy Zelnik), first brought by the Phoenicians as part of some harebrained idea to use him as a body double for Ramses. Eventually he assassinates Ramses on the orders of the priests.
  • In the Back: Tutmosis goes to arrest Herhor on Ramses' orders, only to be stabbed in the back with a spear by one of his men, who is actually loyal to Herhor.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The Queen is pissed when Prince Ramses takes up with a Jewish girl. Ramses ends up agreeing with his mother when he finds out his son has been given the Jewish name "Isaac." He makes Sarah a slave to Kama.
  • The Maze: The labyrinth where the priests of Egypt keep the country's gold stores, which they control. The bulk of the plot involves Ramses wanting to seize the gold to finance his war and his reforms, but only the priests know the way in.
  • Mutual Kill: Lykon fatally stabs Ramses in the gut, but Ramses still has enough strength left to strangle Lykon to death.
  • Repeat Cut: Combined with P.O.V. Cam. The shot where a hulking Assyrian warrior bashes an Egyptian (represented by the camera) with his club is repeated three times.
  • Royal Harem: Ramses juggles Sarah and Kama. Then there's Hebron, who is marrying Ramses's sidekick Tutmosis, but states very plainly to Ramses that she's only marrying Tutmosis to get close to him.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Crown Prince Ramses leading Egypt's armies in the field.
  • Scenery Censor: A priestess conveniently moves right in front of the corpse of Ramses XII right before the priests remove his loincloth.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The film cuts away as Hebron appears to be kneeling in order to give Ramses a blow job.
  • Sword and Sandal: Political intrigue in ancient Egypt.
  • Too Important to Walk: Herhor, who is carried around on a litter while leading the army in the field; this is notably contrasted by young Ramses who leads the men on foot. Later Ramses XII is carried into court the same way.
  • Toplessness from the Back:
    • Sarah, when Prince Ramses comes to see her and their newborn son.
    • And Kama in a scene immediately afterwards where she reveals to Ramses that his son is being raised as a Jew.
  • Treasure Room: The Egyptian gold reserves located deep within the labyrinth. Herhor leads Ramses there only to tell him that he can't have the gold.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: We don't find out the fate of Kama, last seen in the custody of the priests after she and Lykon were arrested.