An interesting screen translation of an Egyptian novel by Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz that transfers the action from Cairo to a single street — Midaq Alley — in Mexico City. El Callejon de los Milagros (1994) is a stylistic treat with a bit too little at its center. Despite the fact the film boasts numerous awards, its presence in the U.S. is almost entirely due to the presence of Salma Hayek in the cast, giving it a marketable hook. The plot is a multi-story affair divided into four sections, all of which start from the same domino game in Rutilio’s (Ernest Gomez Cruz) bar, and all of which cross over into each other. (The connections between the first two stories are the most interesting achieved.)
Never having read Mahfouz’s novel, I can’t say how closely the film follows its source, but the results are typical of Latin cinema in being very close to soap opera. While only Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar have managed to take soap opera material and transform it into something truly rich and wonderful, director Jorge Fons does a credible job of making the film seem deeper and more intelligent than the material probably warrants. This is especially true when the film turns melodramatic at the end (though this section is boosted by an ending that’s moving in its brevity). The most interesting and unusual story is the first one, but all have their merits.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke