A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s very first feature, Baba Amin/ Papa Amin/ Daddy Amin. We discuss how the first half seems like the work of a different, less talented filmmaker, how the second half comes alive with charm, inventiveness, song; how Faten Hamama once more comes across as one of the great presences of world cinema; the connection to the Astaire/ Rogers Swing Time; its interesting mix of musical and melodrama, and how auteurism here results in an enhanced appreciation of the work.
I have made a little video demonstrating the influence of George Stevens’ Swing Time (1936) on Chahine:
An appreciation of Chahine’s short but great Cairo as Seen By Chahine. We discuss the film’s self-reflexiveness. How it’s aware of framing, composition, foreign expectations, relations and obligations concerning style and subject matter. How to film and evoke a city? How to do it with respect and love for its inhabitants? How to politely warn about dangers around, problems ahead and how to understand what drives desperate people there. We could have had a much longer discussion. But then, it would have been longer than the film.
The film was shot in Cairo between the 15th of January and the 23rd of February 1991.
Some of the clips discussed include the following:
A)Self-reflexiveness on framing and composition:
B) What foreigners expect to see in a film about Cairo:
c) Ruminations on a style that will please the critics:
D) Prayers and Show business:
E: Cinema and Film-going:
F: Trailer for Podcast:
and this one:
Richard has noticed a similarity/connection between the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho:
and the scene where Chahine connects the whole city to people living together, to knowing and to love:
This ends too quickly but will give you an idea:
The film per se is available to see with e-s-t on Vimeo:
Samee3Lamee3, one of the very knowledgeable listeners of the podcast has illuminated the following points for us, so very many thanks:
The film (within the film) is called “The Belly Dancer and the Politician” also the dialogue in the screened film is a very smart way for Chahine to put the political element that portrays Egypt’s corrupt leaders
A few of them (the people in the film) are actual actors, like “Basem Samra” who did the sex scene. It was his first film and now he is a well established actor in Egypt. Only the shots of the streets and cafes were regular people.
His name is Khaled Youssef, he met “Joe” when he wanted to screen “The Sparrow” in his University. But the screening got them in trouble, they became friends and Joe convinced him that he would make a great director. So he mentored him and made him.
wrote “The other” and later films because he had political knowledge and many consider Khaled as the real director for “Chaos”. And Khaled has made many commercially successful films since then
Richard has also provided some very interesting links that get discussed in the podcast:
‘here is the 1961 Joseph film, pretty terrible from the looks of it but interesting to skim through to note the similarities
‘Here’s a version of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat screened for Israeli Television’:
‘This is a 1972 ITV broadcast which the end credits reveal to be a TV version of the Young Vic production with the same cast as the stage version. Ian Charleson can be seen in his first screen role as one of the brothers. Better quality version here but it’s missing the first couple of minutes’:
‘Here is what I believe to be Mohsen Mohiedden’s film as star and director , Shabab ala kaf afreet:
Lastly, here is a trailer I made for this podcast:
Patrice Chereau is Napoleon, out to conquer Egypt. Michel Piccoli is Cafarelli, one of Napoleon’s generals and a man of science. Cafarelli falls in love with Ali (Mohsen Mohieddin) AND his brother, Egyptian patriots who learn to love him but — Ali at least — not that way. It’s an anti-colonial, very queer film, not afraid of placing poetry in the midst of impressive spectacle. The first of Chahine’s France-Egyptian co-productions involving Humbert Balsan. It got bad reviews from both the French and the Egyptian press upon first release and has since become a classic, the only one of Chahine’s films we’ve been able to find released on blu-ray (and as a ‘Heritage’ film in France). The podcast touches on all of these subjects and, when scenes are discussed, clips are provided:
The version shown on Kuwaiti television with English sub-titles discussed by Richard at the beginning of the podcast:
and what follows are clips from scenes discussed in the podcast:
a: the beauty of the film itself and the uses of Egyptian landmarks.
b) the wonderful scene with Patrice Chereau as Napoleon dancing
c) the uses of poetry. A film that is not afraid to deploy it narratively nor nor create it visually.
d: Anti-colonial struggles
A lesson in love: power dynamics, desire, sex, affection. Chahine dramatises it with many colours and in various dimensions.
Martin Stollery is the author of a monograph on Youssef Chahine’s The Emigrant (see below), the most sustained analysis of any one Youssef Chahine film I’ve been able to find in English. The film is available to see on Netflix and seems more pertinent and resonant than ever. In the podcast above Martin and I discuss the film itself; how it allegorises; the meaning and uses of water in Chahine’s films; the famous court case that is part of the context of the film’s release; and the tension between the film’s relationship to Biblical epics as well as Youssef Chahine’s more personal style of filmmaking. An illuminating discussion of texts, contexts and modes of analysis that ends with a renewed appreciation of Chahine’s achievements as a director.
In conversation, Martin mentioned that his work on Chahine was sparked by a series of Arab films programmed by Channel Four in the late 80s/ early 90s. I asked Sheldon Hall to check up on this for me, and he generously provided a pdf of all the films screened from 88-91, which you Chahine-films-1988-91. Sheldon notes that ‘For the record, the Arab ‘season’ seems to have been only three films: ALYAM ALYAM, CAIRO CENTRAL STATION (sic) and REED DOLLS. CCS was repeated in the Cinema of Three Continents series on 05/08/1990. ALEXANDRIA ENCORE was shown in the same series on 17/11/1991. The TVT review is by David Quinlan, the RT one by Derek Winnert. First showing of CCS was 08/02/1988′.
The Youssef Chahine Podcast has never been so lucky before: you can now see the film on Netflix, listen to the discussion above, and then follow up the author’s discussion by reading the book on the film.
The French legal scholar Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron has published a nice piece on the trial: Bernard-Maugiron N. “Legal Pluralism and the Closure of the Legal Field: the al-Muhajir Case”. In B. Dupret, M. Berger et L. al-Zwaini (eds.), Legal Pluralism in the Arab World, Kluwer Law International, La Haye-Londres-Boston, 1999, 173-189.
Below is the shot mentioned by Martin in the podcast from Cairo as Told by Chahine – about fourteen minutes into the film – ‘quotidian spirituality and the sensuality of cinema combined in an inclusive, utopian image of what Chahine wants Egyptian culture to be’.
This is the longest trailer Martin’s been able to find for the Marianne Khoury film:
I include the gif I made to advertise this podcast
….as well as the trailer, merely because I had fun making them and they do give a flavour of the film:
A discussion of Alexandria Again and Forever, the third film in what was initially called Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria Trilogy — including Alexandria… Why ? (1979) and An Egyptian Story (1982)) and later to expand into a quartet and include Alexandria….New York (2004) — focussing on the uses of Shakespeare, the influence of the American musical on Chahine, John Gielgud’s visit to perform Hamlet in Cairo, queer desire, the peplum film, Alexander, Anthony and Cleopatra, Art and Activism, the 1978 cinema artists’ strike in Egypt. The podcast can be listened to below:
The scenes we refer to include this onset filming of a Hamlet soliloquy below:
the MGM musical à la Egyptian at the Berlin Film Festival below:
…which makes an interesting contrast with the Donald O’Connor solo visible below:
Listeners might find interesting this article by Margaret Litvin on
and this excerpt from John Gielgud: Matinee Idol to Movie Star Book by Jonathan Croall:
Lastly, this is the scene from the strike that ends the film and becomes a musical number, bringing once more into play the personal and political, the fictional and the historical…from a fictionalised personal narrative and onto history:
Here is the article on Chahine, affectionately called The Professor, that made Richard aware that his nickname was Joe and that we had recorded this not so favourable discussion, a first, on the anniversary of his death.
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s An Egyptian Story, the second part of his Alexandria Trilogy, and one which is self-reflexive on his career thus far, highlighting Son of the Nile (1951) Cairo Station(1958), Jamila, The Algerian(1958), Saladin The Victorious (1963), Un jour le nil/ People and the Nile (1964/1968), The Sparrow (1973) and other of his films. We trace recurring patterns: the type of mise-en-scène, the use of Shakespeare, the references to American musicals, the deployment of a repertory company of actors, a homosexual element, a social critique matched by an auto-critique — it’s a film in which Chahine puts himself on trial — and a more inventive, imaginative and personal dramatisation that interestingly deploys expressionist and surrealist devices. The podcast can be listened to below.
I enclose clips of some of the scenes discussed in the podcast: Below the marvellous scene with the mother which illustrates how Chahine critiques patriarchal power whilst also demonstrating how women collaborate in a cycle of rape, which they not only experience themselves but commit their daughters to, and which the film critiques on one level and extends sympathy to on another. Brilliant and complex.
Glamorous newsreel footage in combination with a dramatisation of Chahine’s first tie at Cannes to show Son of the Nile
A dramatisation of how Chahine sold his producer on the idea of Cairo Station:
The filming of Cairo Station, interesting to see in relation to the same scene in the film itself:
Showing Jamila, The Algerian at the Moscow Film Festival, meeting Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française, being fêted with Magda, and already alluding to the USSR/Egyptian collaboration that would become Un jour le nil
The editing of Saladin interrupted by the death of Chahine’s father.
A moment of auto-critique in An Egyptian Story
The second time Chahine shows Nasser’s resignation in his films, this tie interspersed with footage from The Sparrow:
An example of some expressionist devices and a Surrealist attitude that we see in An Egyptian Story.
Finally a gif:
and a trailer:
and some interesting images:
Those of you interested in pursuing this further might want to look at this very interesting piece by Jaylan Salah,
A discussion of Chahine’s autobiographical film, the first of what would be called the Alexandria Trilogy — Alexandria, Why?/ Iskandariyya….leh? (1979), An Egyptian Story/ Haddouta Misriyya, 1982), Alexandria, Again and Forever/ Iskandariyya, kaman wa kaman, 1989 — and would then expand to include a fourth film, Alexandria….New York, 2004.
I made a trailer for the film and the podcast that should give you a flavour of what it’s about if you haven’t already seen it:
Our special guest star is Dr. Andrew Moor from Manchester Metropolitan University who specialises in, amongst other things, LGBTQ cinema and whose enthusiasm for Chahine films at last year’s Ritrovato festival in Bologna is what introduced many of us to these great works.
Richard Dyer would use Alexandria, Why? to illustrate a lecture on ‘A History of Gay Cinema in Ten Films’, and it could just as profitably be deployed in relation to Queer cinema. The podcast discusses the very interesting ways the film depicts all kinds of intersectionality in a bildungsroman about a young man who wants a career in the arts just as British Occupying Forces are forced to contend with the Germans arriving in El Alemein. We discuss the way the film mixes genres (the musical, the melodrama, the social problem film). It’s a rare director that elicits commentary in relation to a mix including Ken Loach, Shakespeare, Vincente Minnelli and Shakespeare. The film is also an important contribution to a discussion of colonialism from the perspective of the colonised.
There´s a very interesting review of the film by Jesse Cataldo here:
Richard Layne was thrilled to discover 70s British heart-throb Gerry Sundquist as one of the stars of the film and quickly dug up one of his works, as you can see above. Richard also provided more information for those who want to follow up on that aspect here below:
Review of “Soldier and Me” (his first lead role) which features the best summary I’ve seen of his career and what went wrong
Here are some clips referenced in the podcast that you might find interesting:
a tiny excerpt that is from a film that Chahine himself made as a student:
The very moving search fro the British Soldier:
….and the witty conclusion with the arrival in New York:
…and here is the glorious opening scene , which introduces all of the film’s main themes: Hitler promising to get to Alexandria cut to Esther Williams in Bathing Beauty, unruly occupying forces and anti-colonial struggles, the reality of occupation next to the fantasy of Georges Guétary singing ‘I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’ in Minnelli’s An American in Paris, anachronistically deployed here as the film starts in 1942 and the film would not be released until 1951; a young lad and his mates living their youth in a beautiful port city under difficult circumstances, a city made up of diverse peoples, represented inclusively and dramatised with feeling and depth. It’s a beautiful film.
Here is a more extended version of the film Chahine made at school:
There is a very interesting article here, perhaps romanticising, on how Chahine was able to finish his stint in America as a student due to a government error:
The podcast barely scratches the surface but will, we hope, enhance viewers’ appreciation and interestingly links it with his oeuvre to this point.
A teen musical à la Tennesse Williams with Shakespearean overtones and a blood wedding that would put both García Lorca and Game of Thrones to shame. Richard Layne and I discuss all of this in the context of both Chahine’s career, it was his first film after the Trilogy of Defeat (The Land,The Choice,The Sparrow) –and the political context of the time, with the Civil War in Lebanon, one that was to last fifteen years, starting in 1975, the year before this Algerian-Lebanese-Egyptian co-production was produced.
The film is structured around the Old Testament Story, with a Cain and Abel structuring device also accompanied by a Romeo and Juliet story, in this case, and in keeping with the film’s Marxist analysis, a love made impossible by a class divide. It also borrows from the André Gide short story of the same name which explores the impossibility of having one law that fits all.
The film is a very hybrid generically, but it IS a musical. In The Arab National Project in Yousssef Chahine’s Cinema, Malek Khouri writes,
The first musical number takes place at school where the two young dreamers Rafida and Ibrahim express their friendship and love for each other. The second song accompanies Ali’s release from prison and introduces us to his character through flashbacks of his lost time in prison and his consequent disillusionment with his political dreams and hopes. The third follows the fight between Ibrahim and his father Tulba, as Ibrahim and his father Tulb, Ibrahim and Tafida join other youths in proclaiming ‘The streets are ours,’ reflecting the solidarity and determination of youth in the fight for social change and freedom. The final song is inItially heard when Ibrahim is bit by a scorpion, and is heard once again as a mantra towards the end of the film as the bloody chaos explodes at the Madbouli household’ (p. 108)
The music is glorious, as you can see below in the footage of Sadat’s funeral, that leads to a full-blown musical number, with dancing.
The film’s first musical number is this lovely one about the ending of school.
This is continued by a song that refers both to Egypt after Nasser but also to the love story between our two young protagonists.
A song that. is reprised in the incredible finale for the film, which is as lurid and violent as anything in Titus Andronicus:
…and as always, Chahine puts his hopes in youth and the future:
I made this trailer for the podcast that gives a flavour of the film as a whole:
A dense and rich political film with extraordinary mise-en-scène that begins with an open letter to the Egyptian people and ends with Nasser informing Egypt of the loss of the Six Day War with Israel and announcing his resignation as the people take to the streets. The Sparrow is perhaps the least pleasurable of his films to watch but very rewarding indeed. The more we talked about it and the more we read, the richer the film becomes. The podcast can be listened to below:
I made an ad announcing the podcast earlier in the week. I want to keep it here for the obvious homoeroticism it displays:
but one which rhymes on another level this clip below:
In the podcast we discuss this extraordinary scene with the women guerillas and the extraordinary editing that ends the sequence:
We also discuss at length the boy’s attempts to get to the holy shrine, the picaresque hero always cheated, lied to; weak, powerless, and yet determined to go on to his destination. He symbolises the little sparrow in the film, Egypt’s youth, and the future
We discuss the use of zooms in the film, and as you can see below, the edit on the rythm of the zoom itself, whilst also exemplifying Chahine’s way of often placing a figure in a crowd.
One detects a more Sirkian turn in the mise-en-scène, frames within frames, the screen broken up into different partitions compositionally but also bringing in different degrees of depth into play, all of this within the conveyance and critique of a nostalgia for English Colonialism.
We discuss this dream sequence that echoes an earlier critique of the male gaze as a violation.
An finally, the extraordinary last sequence with Nasser handing resigning over the loss of the Six Day War.
Nasser’s resignation rhymes with the Open Letter from Youssef Chahine to his audience that reads as follows:
On the streets of Cairo, Algiers, Tunis, and Baghdad and all Arab capitals young people stope me and ask, “tell us, Youssef, what really happened in June 1967? How did we end up with such a defeat, and why? We thought that we were ready to fight.” All these sincere and courageous people, these sparrows that I love, did not hesitate to flock into the streets in June 1967 to express their readiness to take on the new challenge….To all these people, today we try, through The Sparrow, to illuminate a few of the national and international elements why they, without their knowledge, became victims to”.
People may also want to take a closer look at this image capture for a closer look at mise-en-scène (the use of space, mirrors, the filming from inside, and many other stylistic characteristics we’ve been discussing in the podcasts to now) but also for the way they illuminate thematic issues:
Aside from the books mentioned in the podcast, readers may also find the following interesting, courtesy of Richard Layne:
A real find, the director´s cut of a celebrated film maudit, currently made available on the Henri platform through the great generosity of the Cinémathèque Française until the 15th of July. A celebration of the Soviet-Egyptian collaboration that resulted in the building of the Aswan Dam, this film is also a critique of the dispossession and displacement it led to, a feminist critique of the loss of identity that accompanies following a husband to a new country, it can also very much be read as an inter-racial queer romance in the midst of the wrenching transformations brought on by Modernity. An extraordinary film that works on many levels, has an epic narrative sweep to accompany its 70mm Cinemascope specs, but that always brings the personal to the political and does so poetically through word, image and sound. A masterpiece of the cinema. Ou discussion of it can be listened to below:
Some of the clips discussed in the podcast can be seen below:
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s The Land, also known as The Earth, with José Arroyo and Richard Layne. The film was released in 1970 and is based on Marxist Egyptian author Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi’ novel The Egyptian Land, first published in 1954. It was part of a wave of cultural works named Iltizam, referring to a serious, committed approach to fiction, of which we can see Chahine’ film as a cinematic equivalent. We find The Land to be so far the best in the series of works currently being shown on Netflix and which we are watching in chronological order.
The film makes connections between anti-colonial and class struggles. It dramatises how it is the strength of collective resistance that determines the outcome of major social upheavals. We discuss the beauty of its images, such as the opening image, rough hands tending cotton flowers, which is then rhymed with the closing image: a freeze frame of bloodied hands scratching the land so as to try to hold onto it. Each character in The Land is not only a fully rounded three-dimensional character but is also symbolised as an extension of social class and cultural dynamic reflecting the complexity of the village’s life.
We discuss the story of how a rich man wanting a road to his mansion destroys the life of a village, and how its elders and leaders — Abu Swailam (Mahmoud El-Meliguy), the hero; Sheikh Hassouna, the religious leader;Sheik Yusuf, greedy village merchant; and Muhammad Effendi (Hamdy Ahmed), the local school teacher — are unable to resist what is clearly going to destroy them all, either because they are corrupted, or because individually they don’t have the power to. We also discuss the role of women in the film: Wasifa (Nadwa Ibrahim), Abu Swailam’s daughter and Khadra (Tewfik El Dekn), the landless orphan. The film has a powerful depiction of the intersection between class emancipation and national liberation and was nominated for Golden Palm at Cannes.
There are fascinating scenes: the fight over irrigation which ends when they must come together to rescue a cow; women fighting over shit; the allusions to a previous revolution and ongoing struggles. The film is set in the 30s but has resonances with Egypt’s contemporaneous battles with Israel over land. It is also a fascinating film on gender, with calling a man a woman being the worst insult and yet the women themselves depicted in the film as strong of feeling and of action. What The Land achieves is a firm demonstration of how cinema can allude to dynamic interrelationships between the personal and the social. The film simultaneously provides a perspective on how social dynamics affect and are affected by individual and collective commitments and political struggle.
I’ve been having fun making gif ads:
….and also trailers:
We’ve begun to be better informed and, alongside Malek Khouri’s The Arab National Project in Youssef Chahine’s Cinema, mentioned in previous posts, I also recommend Ibrahim Fawal’s book below, which has proved invaluable for, amongst other things, its account of the development of the film industry in Egypt.
I enclose the entry for the film from Ritrovato’s 2019 catalogue:
These are some extraordinary clips from the film that made it neither to the trailer or the gif ad but that are referred to in the podcast:
and to underline the richness of Chahine’s imagery I have extracted these images which are also discussed In the podcast:
Barrie Wharton has written a very interesting article on the creation of national identity in Nasser’s Egypt that references The Land :
Barrie Wharton, ‘Cultivating cultural change through cinema; Youssef Chahine and the creation of national identity in Nasser’s Egypt,’ Africana, Vol.3, No. 1, 2009