Remembering Egyptian veteran director Youssef Chahine



Sat, 29 Jul 2017 - 06:20 GMT


Sat, 29 Jul 2017 - 06:20 GMT

Youssef Chahine. File photo

Youssef Chahine. File photo

CAIRO- 29 July 2017: Nine years ago, Youssef Chahine passed away, after a life devoted to cinema and movie-making. Joe, as his friends used to call him, is the most famous Egyptian director in western circles.

His cooperation with French production companies and choosing themes appealing to the western taste were his key to get into the international arena. In 1997, Chahine was awarded, among many other awards, the 50th annual Lifetime Achievement Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Youssef Chahine left a legacy of 42 movies, starting in 1950 with “Daddy Amin” and ending with “Chaos” in 2007.

A look at his unique career
Chahine has a rare style in directing his movies. He used to act for the actors to get them to perform the scene as he wants them. This was shown clearly in his brilliant movie “Al Mohager” (The Immigrant), where the Pharaohs were speaking in colloquial dialect, in the way he himself talks. He had a very distinct way of speaking: short and fast. This pattern was criticized widely, yet the movie was a huge success, although controversial due to the notion that the hero of the movie is the Prophet Joseph. According to the religious edict of al-Azhar, prophets should not be impersonated in drama. Chahine changed the name to “Ram” and bypassed the decision. The images literally talked in this movie due to the genius of Ramses Marzook, the director of photography.

His distinct style was shown in “Bab el Hadid” (Cairo Station) in 1958. The marginalized – an expression unknown at the time – were shown in that movie. He acted as the mentally challenged character who falls in love with one of the girls selling soda on the station deck. He ends up killing another girl and is committed to the mental hospital.

The veteran director was always accused of narcissism. He made his autobiography in a cinematic form in the “Alexandria” trilogy (“Alexandria, Why?”, “Egyptian Tale” and “Alexandria Again and Again”). In the first movie, he describes his life and how he started in cosmopolitan Alexandria during World War II, shedding light on the minority status and the tolerance that existed before the 1952 change of regime from kingdom to republic.

Then, in “Egyptian Tale”, he describes his open heart surgery experience in London and the thoughts that came to him during his brush with death. That one was among his most bizarre movies that was least understood by the audience.

In “Alexandria Again and Again”, he documented the battle against a law passed by the regime to oppress the voices of the unions. The battle was that of freedom of expression, and the resistance led in fact to overturning that tyrannical law.

Joe worked as an actor, producer, director, writer and photographer as well in most of his movies, especially after getting international recognition. His status gave him freedom and immunity from the rigid social, artistic and political movements in the Egyptian society.

The political movies in Joe’s life are landmarks, from “Gamila Bohrid”, where he portrays the life of the legendary Algerian freedom fighter and the torture that she suffered by the French occupation forces; to “Salah Eldin the Victorious”, where he presents the story of the famous Arab leader who beat the third crusade. Then, “Al Asfoor” (The Sparrow), where he shows the dark side of the regime in persecuting opposition members.

“Adieu Bonaparte” is another landmark in his career, dramatizing the period where Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Egypt and how the encounter with western culture affected the Egyptian society then.

One thing about Joe is he did not lack courage in expressing his views, tackling the hard issues, such as religion, homosexuality, political oppression and all the taboo subjects in his documentaries and movies. He had the skill and means to accomplish that.



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