The Film starts with the narrator who states a couple of facts:
- This world was not made to be easy to live in.
- Some people work hard to get where they are.
- Some people steal and get elevated, some people fall.
They sound almost too simple, and they are, because the narrator is an old Egyptian story teller, who wander around in the streets, exchanging stories for a few piasters, with the help of box that shows a few pictures, it was the closest thing kids back then had for a TV, it was called the box of the world (Sandoua El Donia صندوق الدنيا), and his main audience were children, the story however is a little bit more complicated.
The narrator introduces the main characters, and they are:
- Fatma: a simple farmer woman.
- Hafeza: a rich woman whom her sole purpose in life is to keep and advance her wealth.
- Othman: The corrupt mayor of the village, who is married to Hafeza, and his only wish in life besides getting wealthier and more powerful is to get a son to inherit all of this wealth and power.
After that the film takes you to the village were the story happens, and you see the mayor riding a donkey among his followers, as he ride across the village, he meets a farmer woman named Fakeha, whom carrying a small cage filled with a couple of ducks and chickens and accompanying her children on her way to the market to sell the poultry. The mayor implies that he likes those fat ducks and chickens and that he would like to have them, but the simple woman doesn’t get the hint, so instead he tells her that her eldest son (whom is 11 years old) is old enough to join the army, there is an official list asking for him by name. The woman fearing for her child begs the mayor not to take her child, the mayor pretends to be heart broken for her, and declares there is nothing he can do, then leaves, but leaving behind his head of security Hasan. Hasan tells her how kind the mayor is, and if she would present him with a gift, for example the poultry, an agreement can be reached. The poor woman accepts the offer.
Then the mayor goes to meet his brother Aloan, and proposes to exchange lands with him, the 20 acres that Aloan owns, for 25 from Othman’s. Othman forgets to mention that those 25 acres are heaths and can not be cultivated, but Aloan knows this, and he politely refuses, although he is appalled that his own brother would try to rob him of the small wealth he owns, when Othman and Hafeza own together more than 300 acres.
Aloan’s son, who is merely a boy, hears the conversation, and wonders why would his uncle want their land, when they are going to inherit his land after he dies, anyway?!
The mayor becomes furious from this remark, so enraged that he throws the kid with a stone that hits him in the head.
Meanwhile Aloan’s wife, who is also the mayor’s neighbor, looks down into their yard, to find that Hafeza is turning to superstitious methods in hopes of having a child, and when Aloan’s son returns home with his head bleeding, Aloan’s wife picks a fight with Hafeza, shaming her for not having kids, accusing her of jealousy from her family.
The mayor meets Fatma in the village, and declares to his followers that he doesn’t understand, how could a man as poor as Abo El Elaa, marries a woman as beautiful as Fatma? Not only is she beautiful she also have given him a twin children, a boy and a girl. Then he orders Fatma to come to his house to work as a servant there in the place of her mother-in-law, who can’t work anymore because she has gone blind of old age.
Fatma tells the mayor that she should ask for her husband’s permission first (which was traditional in Egypt, especially in villages, that a woman can’t do much without her husband’s approval). The mayor tells her that his authority exceeds her husband’s, and he is surprised that she would even make a comparison between the two.
Later Am Mabrok, who is a man who claims to be knowledgeable about science and religion, and one of the mayor’s constant followers, offers the mayor a recipe that he claims will help him to have a child, and if it fails, he proposes that the mayor should seek to have another wife, because something must be wrong with his current one.
When the mayor returns home he orders Fatma to prepare a duck for dinner (so he can use the recipe he got from Am Mabrok) not knowing that Hafiza has ordered Fatma to make a goose as well (for similar reasons).
Abo El Elaa finds that his wife is working in the mayor’s house, when he accidently meets her there, she explain to him what happened, and he understands that the mayor is tyrannous man, and no one can disobey his orders, they are no different. The mayor eavesdrops on part of their conversation, and he envies Abo El Elaa on his wife’s love.
When it is time for dinner, the mayor and his wife find out what a great feast they have accidently planned, and they mourn their loss (even though the mayor has just robbed a woman of a whole cage of poultry earlier that day). They decide to enjoy the food anyway, and then they find out that the wings and the heads from the duck and goose are missing, and there is only one suspect, Fatma.
The mayor blinded by jealousy and greed, orders Hasan to take Abo El Elaa into custody, and not let him out till the next morning, so he wouldn’t get a chance to enjoy the food his wife has stolen.
Fatma, who is resourceful, knows that Hasan is as poor as they are, tells him that before he fetch her husband, he should at least join them for a cup of tea, and if he is hungry, he is welcome to the small meal she has prepared. Hasan suffering from hunger, and at the temptation of tasting meat, agrees to stay for a small bite. He then feels too obliged to them, and lies to the mayor by reporting that he did execute the unjust order.
Afterwards comes a telegraph from the city, warning that malaria is spreading, and that the mayor should take the necessary precautions, and send the people of his village to be vaccinated. Most people in the village believe that the only medicine they should use is herbs, and the mayor holds the same belief, yet he only send a few villagers to be vaccinated, so it would seem like he is following orders.
Just as you would expect the malaria spreads through the village, and even the mayor gets infected, Hafeza refuses to send for a doctor as she believes that doctors and modern medicine do more harm than good, but Aloan insists, and he brings a doctor anyway.
Seeing that Othman’s death is a real possibility, and knowing that without an heir, all their wealth would be lost, Hafeza agrees to let Othman marry another.
At first Hafeza would pick women whom she considers to be less attractive than her, and therefor less threatening, but Othman with his heart set on Fatma, keeps coming with excuses to eliminate other alternatives, he argues that it is better to choose a woman whom they know is capable of having children, whom without relatives to fight for her rights after the mayor divorces her, whom is meek and therefor easier to manipulate. The only woman who fits this description is Fatma, there is but one problem, that she is still married to Abo El Elaa. However that is a problem that could be easily solved according to the powerful mayor, all he have to do is tempt him with some money to divorce his wife, and if that fails, he can simply “get rid of him” without leaving a trace.
The mayor actually proposes his offer to Abo El Elaa whom refuses, then the mayor reminds him that he always gets what he wants, and what he have said is more of an order than a wish.
When Abo El Elaa returns home, his wife notices that he is distressed, she finds out what the mayor has told him, and she tells him they can just escape the village, they will gather the little that they own, and leave. However the mayor disrupt their plan, and he arrests Abo El Elaa on the false charge of theft.
The mayor having already bribed the police officer in charge of the investigation, resuggest his offer one last time, he also implies that he have already killed a man, and the case is still open, and just as he can falsely accuse him of theft, he can accuse him of murder, and he is powerful enough to get him convicted, he can even get him executed.
Fatma realizes that there is no escape from the mayor’s grip, and the only way she can save her family is by sacrificing herself, so she asks Abo El Elaa to divorce her, and she promises that she will find a way to get the mayor back for what he did to them, she also implies that she prefers to kill herself than to succumb to him.
Under all this pressure, Abo El Elaa finally submit and he divorces Fatma. And even though by the Islamic law (Sharea) Fatma can not remarry before at least 3 months from her divorce, the mayor threatens the village’s Sheikh, so he would be able to marry her immediately.
Later Fatma is sent with the company of Am Mabrok to the city, to buy some new clothes for her. Fatma asks Am Mabrok to allow her to pray in the mosque before returning to the village, and he consents. In the mosque she meets a Sheikh whom sees how distressed she is, and tries to console her, when she tells him her story, he assures her that in God’s eyes whatever she or her husband would do unwillingly would not count, so she is not divorced from her husband, and she could never legally or religiously be the mayor’s wife. Fatma feels strongly reassured by the Sheikh’s words.
At the wedding party, Hafeza is filled with jealousy, that she agrees to try one more superstitious trick to help her get pregnant, she lies on the track of a train, while the train passes over her, then she is supposed to be with her husband that night, or the magical effect will disappear.
Meanwhile Abo El Elaa blinded by rage, sneaks into the mayor’s house, while everyone is busy with the arrangements of the party, and he hides under the bed in what would be the new bride’s room in the big house, Abo El Elaa awaits the mayor with a sickle in his hand.
After the party, and before the mayor gets to join his new bride in her room, Hafeza stops him, asking him to speak in private, for she has something urgent to discuss with him. The mayor reluctantly agrees, then she asks him, if he still loves her to spend this night with her instead of Fatma, Othman filled with desire for Fatma, furiously refuses, then Hafeza tells him if he would not grant her this wish, he will have to divorce her, Othman wanting to get rid of her, tells her that he would divorce her in the morning, then Hafeza adds that after he divorce her, he have to return her land and its profit to her, at this moment Othman remembers that he can’t afford to lose Hafeza, even though he doesn’t really care about her anymore. He tries to appease her anger and jealousy with sweet words, but she insist on her demand, so he agrees to stay in her room, but he also swears that he will stay on the couch because he is so angry at her ridiculous demand, that he can’t go to sleep, Hafeza finds comfort in the small victory of robbing Fatma of Othman for this night.
In Fatma’s room, Fatma finds out Abo El Elaa’s hiding place, and she tries to convince him of leaving before the mayor finds him, for with killing the mayor, he would be also killing himself. Abo El Elaa refuses, but then Hafeza comes knocking on Fatma’s door, and brags about how Othman loves her so much that he will stay with her that night, and that Fatma will have to sleep alone, not knowing that Fatma is delighted for this small blessing, and she doesn’t spend the night alone, for Abo El Elaa stays with her till dawn, and he leaves with her promise that the mayor will never be her husband, and that she would even kill the mayor if she has to.
Later Hafeza attempts to assert her authority in the house, by assigning the same menial job to Fatma that she used to handle as a maid. Fatma uses’ Hafeza behavior towards her as an excuse to avoid Othman, for she claims, living in the same house as Hafeza makes her feel like she is just the maid, that she is not really his wife, and until he gets her, her own place, she will not consider him to be her husband, knowing how stingy Othman is, and that he will never meet this demand.
Since Othman can’t let Fatma have her own house, for that will spite Hafeza, he tries to appease Fatma by letting her have a small authority on the house’s servants, Fatma uses this chance to show them her generosity and kindness, for she knows how they suffer under the mayor’s rule.
After two months from the marriage, Hafeza is tired from tolerating the existence of Fatma, so she insists that the midwife check to see if Fatma is pregnant or not, for if she hasn’t become pregnant by now, then she never will.
The mayor is ashamed to admit that he haven’t had a chance to be with Fatma for the past two months, as Fatma kept tricking him night after night to keep him away, but he allows the midwife to examine her anyway, to his surprise Fatma is pregnant, Othman shows his disbelief, and everyone around him assume it is because he thought there was something wrong with him, so they congratulate him, and assure him that this is God’s reward for his patience.
Othman talks to Fatma in private to find out the truth about this pregnancy, the truth is she never considered him to be her husband, she kept her relationship with Abo El Elaa right under his nose, and now there is nothing he can do about it, because the whole village knows that she is his wife, if he claimed that someone else got her pregnant, then his admitting that he – the powerful mayor – can be fooled by a simple woman, that would bring shame to his name, and would greatly undermine his authority, he would become the joke of the village.
The mayor realize that he has no way out of this predicament, that Fatma has gotten the best of him, and under this considerable defeat and shame he suffers from a stroke that leaves him hemiplegic. Everyone believes that what caused it is his overwhelming happiness of finally having an heir.
As the mayor powers decrease, Fatma’s powers increase, she starts to have more authority as the soon to be mother of the only heir, she distributes some of the wealth on the poor, and promises that after her son is born, and she becomes the legal guardian of his possessions, that she will return what was stolen to their rightful owners.
Later Fatma gives birth to a healthy son, and with the boy’s birth, the mayor dies. Making Aloan the new mayor, and leaving Fatma to return to her husband, and keep her promises to the people of the village.