CAIRO – 27 July 2020: Youssef Chahine or “The Professor” as dubbed by his students has been considered one of Egypt’s greatest directors, having filmed a wide variety of films for over five decades. Egypt Today is commemorating Chahine’s death anniversary which falls on July 27.
Chahine is one of the filmmakers that have raised Egyptian cinema to international acclaim, and a well-known supporter of women rights.
Youssef Chahine was born in Alexandria in 1926. He travelled to Hollywood to study acting in Pasadena Playhouse, California in 1946. Upon his return, he decided to shift from acting to directing.
Chahine directed his first film “Baba Amin” (Dady Amin) in 1950. The following year, he directed his second, “Ibn El-Nil” (Son of the Nile), which was his first film featured at the Cannes Film Festival. Another famous film of his, “Al-Ikhtiyar” (The Choice), was awarded a Golden Tanit in Carthage Film Festival in 1970.
Nine years later, “Eskenderia Leh” (Alexandria …Why?), which is directed by Chahine and narrates his early life, won a Silver Bear and Special Jury prize in Berlin International Film Festival.
He continued the autobiographic quartet with “Hadouta Masryia” (An Egyptian story) in 1982, “Eskendria Kaman we Kaman” (Alexandria Again and Again) in 1990 and “Eskendria…New York” (Alexandria…New York) in 2004.
Chahine cooperated with the legendary French singer Dalida in “El-Youm El-Sades” (The Sixth Day). She played the role of a poor, humble Egyptian woman. He also established a production company named “Aflam Masr El-Alamya” (Misr International Films), producing plenty of films, some of which were directed by other directors, such “Shafiqa we Metwally” (Shafiqa and Metwally) by Aly Badrakhan.
El-Maseer (The Destiny) was nominated for the Palme d'Or in 1997, and against all expectations, the film did not win any prizes in the festival. 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.
Chahine directing school
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 transferred 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. This 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 for the freedom of expression, and the resistance which led to the overturning of 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. In “Al Asfoor” (The Sparrow) 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.
Chahine participated with 10 films at the Cannes Film Festival during his career which are:
1. Ibn El-Nil (Son of the Nile) - 1951
2. Sera’ fi Al-Wadi (Struggle in the Valley) - 1954
3. El-Ard (The Land) - 1969
4. Al-Asfour (The Sparrow)- 1972
5. Wada’an Bonaparte (Goodbye Bonaparte) - 1985
6. El-Youm El-Sades (The Sixth day) -1986
7. Eskendria Kaman we Kaman (Alkexandria Again and Again) - 1990
8. El-Maseer (The Destiny) - 1997
9. El-Akhar (The Other) - 1999
10. (Alexandria…New York) - 2004
One of Chahine’s most famous quotes is “I make films first for myself, then for my family, then for Alexandria, then for Egypt… If the Arab world likes them, ahlan wa sahlan (welcome). If the foreign audience likes them, they are doubly welcome.”
Chahine died in his home on Sunday, July 27, 2008, leaving his creative imprint on all his films.
12 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.
The 54th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) honoured late great Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine.
– The festival was held between June 28 and July 6, 2019 in Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic.
It is worth mentioning that the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation has restored Chahine’s masterpiece “Al-Ikhtiyar” (The Choice). The murder mystery will screen in the Festival’s Retrospective and Classics section. The event marks the first big screen projection of the legendary director’s work in Saudi Arabia.