Youssef Chahine – Bab el hadid AKA Cairo Station (1958)



Universally panned by Egypt’s cinema audiences when it was first released in 1958, Youssef Chahine’s “Cairo Station” disappeared from view for two decades until it was rediscovered and hailed as a masterpiece. Watching the film now, almost half a century after its first screening, it’s easy to see why it upset so many people “Cairo Station” is a pressure cooker of lust, jealousy, and psychosis.

Crippled Kenaoui (Chahine), nicknamed “Limpy” by his cruel co-workers, sells newspapers in Cairo’s central station. Living out on the tracks, earning barely enough to keep the makeshift roof over his head, he spends his days fantasising about the voluptuous Hanuma (Rostom), a lemonade seller engaged to macho porter Abou Serib (Chawqi). Kenaoui’s convinced she’ll eventually fall in love with him if he keeps pursuing her. But with a murderer on the loose in Cairo, things may yet take an unexpected turn. Continue reading

Youssef Chahine – Al-Massir aka Destiny (1997)


Ideas are imperishable, such is the premise of this powerful, upbeat allegory from one of Egypt’s most esteemed directors, Youssef Chahine. Ostensibly the true tale of revolutionary Muslim philosopher Averroes who lived in 12th-century Spain when Arabs ruled Anadulsia, it parallels the story of Chahine’s own experiences with Islamic fundamentalists when he released his 1994 film L’Emigre because it dared depict a sacred Muslim prophet. During that time, fundamentalists were not content to merely have the film b
anned, they also threatened Chahine’s life. Despite their destructive efforts, the fundamentalists ultimately failed and L’Emigre became one of Egypt’s most successful films. Averroes was a follower of Aristotelian thought, an innovative lawyer and an important scientist (he discovered the purpose of the retina) who lived during the rule of the great liberal Caliph Al Mansour. At the time, the Caliph’s rivals were part of Magdi Idris, a fundamentalist sect, who sought to destroy his power by cloaking their own political agendas in religious dogma and spreading it liberally amongst the easily influenced peasantry. Continue reading

Nagy Shaker & Paolo Isaja – Summer 70 (1970-1971)

from MOMA:
Nagy Shaker was studying stage design in Rome and Paolo Isaja ran a ciné-club that specialized in experimental cinema when they met at the Rome Film School. They decided to collaborate on their respective film projects, and with the help of friends, they launched into production, casting an American nurse of Italian descent who was in Rome at the time. The film, a meditation on freedom at the turn of the 1970s, utilizes the full vocabulary of experimental cinema to evoke youthful experimentation and energetic abandon. The two alternated between directing, filming, and recording sound. Jamil Suleiman authored the musical score and Renzo Rossellini financed the print. Continue reading

Chadi Abdel Salam – al-Mummia aka The Night of Counting the Years (1969)


Review from Time Out London:
An impressive directorial debut by ex-art director Shadi Abdelsalam, The Night of Counting the Years is an examination of cultural imperialism in reverse: instead of selling Coca-Cola to Egypt, Western merchants are stealing rarities from Egyptian tombs. At first posed in moral terms – should the new chief of an Egyptian tribe allow his people to earn money by selling the antiquities from ‘officially’ undiscovered tombs, or stop the trade at the cost of stopping the flow of money to his poverty-stricken people – the film develops into a study of the importance of defending the past from would-be cultural exploiters. Slow-moving but absorbing, and quite beautifully shot. Continue reading

Hassan Khan – Blind Ambition (2012)

Image Hosted by

Synopsis: Blind Ambition is a nine-part video shot throughout one day in the streets of Cairo. It features nine social situations that take place in public spaces. Shot with two mobile phones, Blind Ambition gives the impression of using real-time, factual footage material. Deprived of ambient sound, and with dubbed in voices, it is a video about material culture during the Egyptian revolution. Continue reading

Samir A. Khouri – Ziab la ta’kol al lahem AKA Kuwait Connection (1973)


From IMDB:
I was very curious to see this Egyptian action/crime thriller from 1973, and boy, was it worth the wait! Similar in a lot of ways to the Italian films of this type, this one features gun fights, car chases, lots of nudity, askew camera angles, lots of hand-held camera work (though more out of budgetary constraints, than any post-modern considerations, ala Michael Bay, Tony Scott, etc), and just plain weirdness. A few scenes are effectively done in the style of giallos, and there’s quite a few surprises in the deceptively linear story. Some scenes and effects are laughably inept (like the point blank shooting of a naked woman where the squib turns out to be dry…!?), but the overall package is so deliriously trippy, you hardly mind the flubs. there is even a touch of lesbianism and a (possible) hint of incest in the script, which is familiar in places but accumulates enough elements to appear somewhat unique. But despite the crudeness of style and the sleaze, the film manages to say something meaningful, and end on a poignant note…just when I thought it was going towards a more happy ending. I love this baby, and I want to see more Arabic films like this one (if indeed there are any). apparently the film was later banned in Egypt, but that’s all good in my book. Continue reading

Youssef Chahine – Iskanderija… lih? aka Alexandria… Why? (1978)


Set against the panoramic backdrop of war-torn Egypt, director Youssef Chahine tells a highly personal tale of love and determination. Amid the poverty, death and suffering caused by World War II, 18 year-old Yehia, retreats into a private world of fantasy and longing. Obsessed with Hollywood, he dreams of one day studying filmmaking in America, but after falling in love and discovering the lies of European occupation, Yehia profoundly reevaluates his identity and allegiances.

The first chapter of Chahine’s Alexandria Trilogy: Alexandria…Why?, An Egyptian Story and Alexandria Again and Forever. Continue reading