Youssef Chahine – Al-mohager AKA The Emigrant (1994)

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The biblical tale of Joseph is told from an Egyptian perspective in this interesting character study. In this film, Joseph is called Ram. Ram, tired of his family’s backward superstitious life, and tired of being picked on by his brothers, wants to go to Egypt to study agriculture. His brothers travel with him across Sinai, but then suddenly sell him to Ozir, an Egyptian who works for a Theban military leader, Amihar. Amihar is impressed by Ram’s drive and personal charm and so grants Ram some desolate land outside the capital. Ram soon finds himself a pawn in the political and sexual games between Amihar and his wife Simihit, a high priestess of the Cult of Amun. Continue reading

Youssef Chahine – Iskanderija, kaman oue kaman AKA Alexandria Again and Forever (1989)

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The last film in Youssef Chahine’s autobiographical Alexandria Trilogy stars Chahine himself as his cinematic alter ego, Yehia Mourad, completing his merging of fiction with real life and drama with psychodrama. Opening with Chahine’s triumph at the Berlin Film Festival, where he took home the Silver Bear for Alexandria…Why? (the first film in the trilogy–this is layered stuff), the film explores Yehia’s obsession with his young star, Amir (Amr Abdel-Guelil), while participating in the general strike of 1987. As Yehia fantasizes about the films they would make together (one of them looks like a loony take on Jesus Christ Superstar), he elevates Amir from a kind of adopted son to cinematic messiah. But while caught up in the strike, Yehia becomes enchanted by a former actress, Nadia (Yousra), turned dedicated revolutionary, and he decides to cast her in his next feature. Continue reading

Youssef Chahine – Hadduta misrija AKA An Egyptian Story (1982)

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Boldly blending personal and political histories, intercutting its fast-moving fictional scenes with documentary footage, this sort of sequel to Alexandria – Why? follows the fortunes of Chahine’s charismatic film-maker hero and alter ego, forced to review his past and learn to love himself by a critical open-heart operation. The occasionally clumsy central conceit – Yehia/Chahine standing trial for his life during surgery – is amply offset by the energy and style of this indulgent, exuberant, and immensely likeable self-portrait. Continue reading

Youssef Chahine – Awdat al ibn al dal AKA The Return of the Prodigal Son (1976)

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In this Andre Gide adaptation, an activist (Ali Mahrez) is released after many years in prison and returns home, shaking up established relationships among his family members at the farm governed by his strict father. Demonstrating Chahine’s eclecticism, this is an elegant melodrama, exuberant musical, layered allegory, and profound portrait of personal and political disillusionment. This is one of Chahine’s best movies and one of the greatest Arabic films. Great performances by Mahmoud El-Meliguy and Hoda Soltan. Continue reading

Youssef Chahine – Al-asfour AKA The Sparrow (1972)

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One of his most controversial films, THE SPARROW was written by Chahine in collaboration with avant-gardist Lofti el-Kholi. Set during the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and the United Arab Republic this story of familial and national divisions has become one of Chahine’s most popular films in festivals and retrospectives. A young policeman’s adoptive father occupies a high post in the force, while his biological father is reputed to have been a left-wing activist. Raouf begins to search for those who might have known his real father, while his half-brother, stationed on the Sinai front, prepares for battle. Continue reading

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

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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)

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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