The Return of Osiris

Essa Grayeb

Screening format
Shown in Compétition #5.


The film weaves numerous stylistically divergent excerpts together, extracted from Egyptian movies and television series produced between 1976 and 2016; the found footage excerpts were edited to reconstruct Nasser’s speech of resignation according to the original text by using elements appropriated from popular culture. By collecting, cataloging, and rearranging visual materials associated with that speech, Palestinian artist Essa Grayeb’s film sheds new light on the challenge of conveying historical and political events via artistic means and the power cinema has on building a collective memory, especially among post-traumatized nations.

Text from the selection committee

The Return of Osiris is constructed from a montage of scenes from fiction films and television series from the 1970s to the 2000s, relaying popular reactions to Nasser’s speech following the defeat of the Six Day War and the announcement of his resignation. The fictional images are varied, but they are unequivocal due to the generalized and unanimous despair caused by the presidential speech.

What reading can one make of this montage of fictional sequences that one watches with the curiosity of discovery when one is not familiar with Egyptian cinema, while being intrigued and moved by the repeated representation of this sentiment deeply shared by an entire people?

In contrast to the ironic, critical and consensual found footage to which experimental audiences are accustomed, Essa Grayeb’s video elaborates a complex and subtle - but also uncomfortable, disturbing - thought around the capacity of images to build a collective memory and the political uses we make of them.

Translation made by the translator

– G.M.


Can you tell me more the genesis of your project? Can you explain the title of your film?

Essa Grayeb

This project is part of a larger body of work that I have working on in the past few years which resonates with a personal childhood memory of a portrait of Gamal Abdel Nasser hanged on the wall of the living room of my grandmother’s house in the Galilee. I grew up believing that this figure in that portrait is my uncle, I used to look for his portrait in every house I visited back in my childhood. I titled my film The return of Osiris aiming to shed light on the process and the journey I had while making this project.


One of the most elaborate and influential stories in ancient Egyptian mythology is the story of Osiris, a primeval king of Egypt that met his demise by his brother Seth. Seth fooled Osiris into getting into a box, which Seth then shut, sealed with lead, and threw into the Nile. In one version of the myth, Seth tore the body into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout the land so that they won’t be found. Isis (Osiris wife) gathered up all the parts of the body and bandaged them together for a proper burial. The gods were impressed by the devotion of Isis and resurrected Osiris as the god of the underworld and the afterlife. “The Modern Egyptian Pharaoh” is a title that Gamal Abdel Nasser was known for; a pharaoh that his epic resignation speech was shredded into pieces, then scattered throughout different cinematic works. This project attempts to bring back those pieces and to embalm them to resurrect the original speech; the same way Isis resurrected Osiris.


How long did it take to make your film?

Essa Grayeb

As in the cases of found footage projects, the research for materials could be extended; in my case, it took me about one year to look for the materials to be included in my video sequence. I began asking people from the close circle like family and friends; then I started sending messages and emails for specific people which I was referred to. During that process, I have compiled a list of names of films and TV series in which I might find segments from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s speech, the next step was to start scanning these sources to look for the specific segments. The next step was the video montage, in which the speech was reconstructed according to the original text.


I have observed that through this historical event you are recomposing a history of Egyptian cinema. What do you think of the relationship between cinema and history? Do you think of cinema films as a film material on which your creations emerge?

Essa Grayeb

We could learn a lot about a nation’s history by looking at the cinema’s industry and popular culture. Sometimes it even gives us a more authentic perspective of reality than a documentary film. What interesting for in this project was the impact popular cinema has on building a collective memory, especially among post-traumatized nations.  


Cinema, in this case, plays an influential role in being a moderator, moderating this historical event and moments to our memory, which some of us didn’t witness, allowing us to construct our own memory and experience and become second-hand witnesses to this epic event.