Our third podcast on Youssef Chahine films, this one on Cairo Station, a combination of Dickensian melodrama, Marxist analysis, neorealist aspirations, film noir techniques, and with a contemporary relevance in its Incel-on-a-rampage theme. A brilliant work, probably the best we’ve seen so far (though those with a penchant for romance might prefer The Blazing Sun or Dark Waters). The podcast can be listened to here:
In the past few podcasts we´ve been noting how wrong wikipedia is in its description of the films so far, and how it is evident from so many of the reviews that many reviewers haven´t seen the films well enough to describe them accurately.Richard even refers us to the BFI.An exception to this pattern is this brief description of the film in the Ritrovato catalogue.
These are excerpts from the film that are described or referred to in the podcast: we. talk about the sensuality in the film and how shocking that must have been in its time
We talk about the film noir elements in a film that has often been described as neorealist and of the extraordinary conceptualisation of shots and use of depth of field, which can be seen in this excerpt-
Likewise the images below are illustrations of some of the aspects discussed in the podcast, the compositions, the themes of sexual obsession, labour organising, the compositions, the way the frame is peopled, etc.:
Lastly, a description of Chahine and his career from the Ritrovato catalogue:
and lastly Mark Cousins also makes for very interesting reading on Cairo Station in his The Story of Film book
Barrie Wharton has written a very interesting article on the creation of national identity in Nasser’s Egypt that references Cairo Station:
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
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s Dark Waters, currently on Netflix. José and Richard discuss how the film introduces the viewer to another culture which might seem sexist and authoritarian to modern sensibilities and that in spite of that is moving, compelling and beautiful.
The podcast ranges over the sensuality depicted, the detection of elements of Shakespeare’s Othello and Hamlet in some scenes, how the frame is alive with community and yet how one detects a patterning in the depiction of that community that connotes a queer culture in that that community which provides comfort and support can also turn on the individual, turn into a mob, and rampage onto murder.
There’s a dramatisation of class in the film with lots of parallelisms between aunt and niece and also what turns out, in typical melodramatic form, two brothers raised on opposite sides of a considerable class divide. One begins to detect patternings in Chahine’s films, the extraordinary compositions, the visual poetry, the excitement of the narrative, the visual beauty of the production, a Hollywood-style story telling with a grand romantic finale that takes advantage of the teaming of Sharif and Faten Hamama, glamorous stars that were then a real life couple. There are long takes that often involve difficult orchestrations of movements of large numbers of people. This and The Blazing Sun are also melodramas where, like in noir, it is the man who’s wounded and suffers for love, often due to his own misapprehensions. In spite of certain macho attitudes now alien to us, the film remains engaging, exciting and revealing.
You can see some of the points made above illustrated in the images below:
The podcast may be listened to below:
Those of you who speak French may want to listen to this charming interview between these ‘two legends of Arab cinema’ where Sharif talks about how he had two strokes of incredible luck in his career, one to be discovered by Chahine whilst he was drinking tea and launched into a career as a film star with The Blazing Sun, and then to be cast by David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia, ‘we were young and beauiful then, now we look like an image of the apocalypse,’ says Sharif. ‘I saw first saw him in the Cinema,’ says Chaine and didn’t take me long to cruise him. How could someone be so beautiful. Then, as he said, I saw him again in a tearoom, Chahine tells a funny story about how they went to the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia together, Sharif shaking because he didn’t know how he was going to be received and then it went well and Chahine was left at the premiere in London dressed in a tux and without a cent. They joke that after that they didn’t see each other for forty years. They went to the same school where they were taught to be ‘gentlemen’ and the interviewer talks of how Shariff represents the greatness, splendor and charm of the Arab world in the West.’ For his part the charmingly self-deprecating Sharif talks about all the mistakes he made, and how Chahine deplored his choices. He also talks interestingly that the only women he knew and lived with and truly loved were his mother and the delicious presence that is FAten Hamama.
The entry on Dark Waters from the 2019 Ritrovato catalogue may be seen below:
In between The Blazing Sun and Dark Waters, Faten Hamama and Omar Shariff also made this film with Chahine, The Desert Devil. The quality is not great but it has English sub-titles:
Faten Hamama (Arabic: فاتن حمامة) (born 27 May 1931) is an Egyptian producer and an acclaimed actress of film, television, and theatre. She was regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from melodramas to historical films and occasional comedies, though her chief successes were romantic dramas. Noted for her willingness to play serious characters, she has also acted in some controversial films in the history of Egyptian cinema.
Hamama made her screen debut in 1939, when she was only nine years old. Her earliest roles were minor, but her activity and gradual success helped to establish her as a distinguished Egyptian actress. Eventually, and after many successful performances, she was able to achieve stardom. Revered as an icon in Egyptian and Middle Eastern cinema, Hamama has substantially helped in improving the cinema industry in Egypt and emphasizing the importance of women in cinema and Egyptian society.
After a seven-year hiatus from acting, Hamama returned in 2000 in what was a much anticipated television miniseries, Wajh al-Qamar (وجه القمر, Face of the Moon). She has not acted since then. In 2000, Hamama was chosen as Star of the Century by the Egyptian Writers and Critics organization. In 2007, eight of the films she starred in were included in the top 100 films in the history of Egyptian cinema by the cinema committee of the Supreme Council of Culture in Cairo.
Early life and career
Faten Hamama was born to a Muslim lower middle class family in Mansoura, Egypt (according to her birth certificate), but she claims she was born in Cairo, in the Abdeen quarter. Her father, Ahmed Hamama, worked as a clerk in the Egyptian Ministry of Education and her mother was a housewife. She has an older brother, Muneer, a younger sister, Layla, and a younger brother, Mazhar. Her aspiration for acting arose at an early age. Hamama says she was influenced by Assia Dagher as a child. When she was six years old, her father took her to the theater to see an Assia Dagher film; when the audience clapped for Assia, she told her father she felt they were clapping for her.
When she won a children’s beauty pageant in Egypt, her father sent her picture to the director Mohammed Karim who was looking for a young female child to play the role of a small girl with the famous actor and musician Mohamed Abdel Wahab in the film Yawm Said (يوم سعيد, Happy Day, 1939). After an audition, Abdel Wahab decided she was the one he was looking for. After her role in the film, people called her “Egypt’s own Shirley Temple”. The director liked her acting and was impressed with her so much that he signed a contract with her father. Four years later, she was chosen by Kareem for another role with Abdel Wahab in the film Rossassa Fel Qalb (رصاصة في القلب, Bullet in the Heart, 1944) and in another film two years later, Dunya (دنيا, Universe, 1946). After her success, Hamama moved with her parents to Cairo and started her study in the High Institute of Acting in 1946.
Youssef Wahbi, a famous Egyptian director and actor, realized the young actress’s talent so he offered her a lead role in the 1946 film Malak al-Rahma (ملاك الرحمة, Angel of Mercy). The film attracted widespread media attention, and Hamama, who was only 15 at the time, became famous for her melodramatic role. In 1949, Hamama had roles in 3 films with Wahbi. Kursi Al-I’etraf (كرسي الاعتراف, Chair of Confession), Al-Yateematain (اليتيمتين, The Two Orphans), and Sït Al-Bayt (ست البيت, Lady of the House) were all successful films.
The 1950s were the beginning of the golden age of the Egyptian cinema industry and Hamama was a big part of it. In 1952 she starred in the film Lak Yawm Ya Zalem (لك يوم يا ظالم, Your Day will Come) which was nominated in the Cannes Film Festival for the Prix International award. She also played lead roles in Yousef Shaheen’s Baba Ameen (بابا أمين, Ameen, my Father, 1950) and Sira’ Fi Al-Wadi (صراع في الوادي, Struggle in the Valley, 1954) which was a strong nominee in the 1954 Cannes Film Festival for the Prix International award. Hamama is also known for playing the lead role in the first Egyptian mystery film Manzel Raqam 13 (منزل رقم 13, House Number 13). In 1963, she received an award for her role in the political film La Waqt Lel Hob (لا وقت للحب, No Time for Love). Hamama was also able to make it to Hollywood; in 1963 she had a role in the crime film, Cairo.
In 1947, Hamama married the actor and director Ezzel Dine Zulficar while filming the Abu Zayd al-Hilali (أبو زيد الهلالي) film. They started a production company which produced the film Maw’ed Ma’ Al-Hayat (موعد مع الحياة, Date with Life) in which she starred. This particular film earned her the title of the “lady of the Arabic screen”. She divorced al-Faqqar in 1954 and a year later, she married the famous actor Omar Sharif. In spite of that, Hamama still acted in films of his direction.
In a Youssef Chahine film, Struggle in the Valley, Hamama refused to have the Egyptian actor Shukry Sarhan as a co-star, and Chahine offered Omar Sharif the role. Omar had just graduated from college then and was working with his father; Hamama accepted him as her co-star. Hamama had never accepted to act any scene involving a kiss in her career, but she shockingly accepted to do so in this film. The two fell in love and Omar Sharif converted to Islam and married her. This marriage started a new era of Hamama’s career as the couple did many of their films together. Sharif and Hamama were the romantic leads of Ayyamna Al-Holwa (أيامنا الحلوة, Our Sweet Days), Ardh Al-Salam (أرض السلام, Land of Peace), La Anam (لا أنام, Sleepless), and Sayyidat Al-Qasr (سيدة القصر, The Lady of the Palace). Their last film together, before their divorce, was Nahr Al-Hob (نهر الحب, The River of Love) in 1960.
Controversy in the late 1960s
Hamama left Egypt from 1966 to 1971 because she was being continuously disturbed by Egyptian Intelligence. Initially, Hamama had been a supporter of the 1952 Revolution, but later became an opponent of the Free Officers and their oppressive regime. She said they were “asking her to cooperate” but she apologized and refused. As a consequence, she was forbidden to travel or participate in festivals. She was only able to leave Egypt after many controversial disputes. She lived in Beirut and London during this period.
While she was away, then President Gamal Abdel Nasser asked famous writers, journalists and friends to try to convince her to return to Egypt. He called her a “national treasure” and had even awarded her an honorary decoration in 1965. However, Hamama didn’t return until 1971 after Abdel Nasser had passed away. Thereafter, she played critical roles conveying messages of democracy. She often criticized the laws in Egypt in her films. In the 1972 film Imbarotiriyat Meem (إمبراطورية ميم, The Empire of M), Hamama presented a prodemocratic point of view and received an award from the Soviet Union of Women in the Moscow International Festival. Her most significant film was Oridu Hallan (أريد حلاً, I Need a Solution). In this film, she criticized the laws governing marriage and divorce in Egypt. After the film, the Egyptian government abrogated a law that forbid wives from divorcing their husbands, therefore allowing khul’.
As Hamama became older, her acting roles declined and she made fewer films compared to earlier in her career, but nevertheless her films were successful. She also made her first TV appearances in her late career. She starred in the TV mini-series Dameer Ablah Hikmat (ضمير أبلة حكمت, Mrs. Hikmat’s Conscience) and was quite successful in her first TV performance.
After 1993, Hamama’s career suddenly came to a halt. It was not until 2000 that she returned in the successful TV mini-series Wajh ِِal-Qamar which was broadcast on 23 TV channels in the Middle East. In this mini-series, Hamama portrayed and criticized many problems in Egyptian and Middle Eastern society. Despite some criticisms, the mini-series received much praise and acclaim. Hamama was awarded the Egyptian Best TV Actor of the Year and the mini-series won the Best TV Series Award in the Egyptian Radio and Television Festival. Hamama entered history as the highest paid actress in an Egyptian TV mini-series until 2006. Rumors have been circulating that Hamama will return in a new TV mini-series called Wazeera ‘ala al-Ma’ash (وزيرة على المعاش, A Retired Minister) in 2007, probably in Ramadan.
Accomplishments in Egyptian cinema
When Hamama started her acting career women were commonly displayed in Egyptian films as unrealistic and bourgeois, spending most of their time chasing (or being chased by) men. It was also customary for an actress to be shown as a sex object. In the beginnings of Egyptian cinema, the casting of female characters was limited to famous singers, dancers or stage actresses. But Faten Hamama was neither a singer nor a dancer, and she had little experience on stage. In spite of that, she was able to magnetize film directors and producers as well as her audiences, which is why she was successful in many of her films.
Before the 1950s, Hamama had leading roles in 30 films, in which she often played the role of a weak, empathetic, poor girl. After the 1950s, Hamama was in search of her real identity and was trying to establish herself as a distinct figure. During this period, her choice of material and roles was somewhat limited. However, film producers soon capitalised on her popularity with audiences in local and Middle Eastern markets and she began to play realistic, strong women, such as in Sira’ Fi Al-Wadi (صراع في الوادي , Struggle in the Valley, 1954) where she portrayed a rich man’s daughter who, contrary to stereotype, was a realistic woman who helped and supported the poor. In the 1952 film Miss Fatmah (الأستاذة فاطمة), Hamama starred as a law student who believed women were as important as men in society.
In Imbratoriyat Meem (امبراطورية ميم , The Empire of M), she played the role of a widow who takes care of her large family and suffers hardship. These films helped in the portrayal of Egyptian women’s problems in a society resistant to modernity. Her most influential film was Oridu Hallan (أريد حلا , I Need a Solution) which criticized the laws of marriage and divorce in Egypt. A law in Egypt that forbade Khul’ ( خلع ) — a divorce initiated by the wife — was annulled immediately afterwards.
Most critics agree that Hamama’s most challenging role was in the 1959 film Dua’e Al-Karawan (دعاء الكروان , The Nightingale’s Prayer), which was chosen as one of the best Egyptian film productions. It is based on the novel by the same name by the prominent Egyptian writer Taha Hussein. In this film, Hamama played the role of Amnah, a young woman who seeks revenge from her uncle for the honour killing of her sister. After this film, Hamama carefully picked her roles. In 1960, she starred in the film Nahr Hob (نهر حب, Love River) which was based on Leo Tolstoy’s well known novel Anna Karenina and in 1961, she played the lead role in the film La Tutf’e Al-Shams (لا تطفئ الشمس, Don’t Turn Off the Sun) based on the novel by Ihsan Abdel Quddous.
Though Hamama has lived most of her life in Egypt, she was forced to live in London and Lebanon for several years due to problems in the late 1960s in Egypt.
She admired the director Ezzel Dine Zulficar, and while filming Abu Zayd al-Hilali (أبو زيد الهلالى) in 1947, which he directed, the two fell in love and got married. Their marriage lasted for seven years: they divorced in 1954. Hamama has said that her love for Zulficar was little more than a student’s admiration and love for a teacher. The two remained friends, and Hamama even starred in his films after the divorce. They have one daughter, Nadia Zulficar.
In 1954, Hamama chose Omar Sharif to co-star with her in a film. In this film, she uncharacteristically agreed to a romantic scene involving a kiss. During the filming, they fell in love. Sharif converted to Islam and married her. The couple co-starred in many films, their romantic relationship clearly evident on screen. However, after almost 20 years, they divorced in 1974. They have one son, Tarek Sharif.
Hamama later married Dr. Mohamed Abdel Wahab Mahmoud, a successful doctor in Egypt. Having learned from experience, this time Hamama decided to keep her personal life private. She rarely appears with him publicly or mentions him in interviews. They currently reside in Cairo.
Throughout Hamama’s career, she has won many awards for her acting roles
First prize of acting for the movie Ana al-Madi (I’m the Past) (1951)
First prize of acting and best Egyptian movie presented in Beirout for Irham Dmoo’i (Have Mercy) (1954)
Maw’ed Maa al-Sa’ada (Appointment with Happiness) receives Prize of acting from the Egyptian Catholic Center for Cinema (1954)
Irham Dmoo’i receives first Prize of acting from Ministry of Guidance for movies that covered season 1954-1955 (1955)
Al-Tareeq al-Masdood (Dead end) & Hatta Naltaqi(Until we meet) receive prizes of acting from the Egyptian Catholic Center for Cinema (1958)
Prize of acting on her role in the movie Bain al-Atlal (Among the Ruins) (1959)
Doaa al-Karawan (The Nightgale’s Prayer) receives the Prize of Acting from Ministry of Guidance (1961)
Doaa al-Karawan received First Pize of acting from the National State award that covered movies from seasons 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962 (1963)
Best actress award from the Jakarta Film Festival on her role in Albab aL-Maftouh (The Open Door) (1963)
First Prize of acting from the National State award for the movie Al Leila Al Akhira (The Last Night) (1965)
Al-Kheit al-Rafee (The Thin Thread) received the Special Award in the first Tehran International Film Festival (1972)
Special award from the Moscow International Film Festival(1973)
A Diploma of honor and the Diploma of recognition for her role and the idea for Oreedo Hallan (I Need a Solution) in the third Tehran International Film Festival (1974)
The Organization of Film Critics and Writers’ Prize of Recognition for her role in Oreedo Hallan (1975)
The Prize of Excellence in the Festival of Egyptian Films for her role in Oreedo Hallan (1976)
Best Actress award from the Tehran International Film festival on her role for Afwah Wa Araneb (Mouths and Rabbits) (1977)
Special Recognition award from President Anwar Al Sadat for her role inAfwah Wa Araneb (1977)
USSR Cinema Prize in Moscow (1983)
Lebanese Golden Order of Merit Prize for her role in the movie Leilet Al Qabd Ala Fatma (The Night of Fatma’s Arrest) (1984)
Prize of Recognition and Life Achievement Award from the Organization of Cinematic Art for her role in the movie Leilet Al Qabd Ala Fatma (1984)
Best Actress award from Carthage International Film Festival, Tunisia for her role inYawm Mor.. Yawm Helo (Bitter Days.. Nice Days) (1988)
Best actress award from the Organization of Film for her role inYawm Mor.. Yawm Helo (1989)
Best Artistic Achievement award from the Cairo International Festival (1991)
Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montpelier Mediterranean Film Festival (1993)
Best actress award from the Egyptian Catholic Center during its celebration for her role in Ard al-Ahlam (Land of Dreams) (1994)
Best Actress award from Cairo International Festival for her contribution to the Egyptian Cinema where 18 of her films were selected amongst the best 150 movies ever made until 1996 during the celebration of a 100 years of cinema (1996)
2000 and later
The Honorary Award from The Radio and Television Festival for her role in Wajh al-Kamar (2001)
A legal drama about the biggest corruption scandal you’ve never heard of, Dark Waters tells the story of lawyer Robert Bilott’s twenty year long fight to expose chemical manufacturer DuPont’s decades of knowing and unapologetic poisoning of a town, a country, and the entire world. Visited by a West Virginian farmer named Wilbur Tennant, whose livestock and falling prey to unusual medical conditions and dying, Bilott – a corporate lawyer who works to help chemical companies pollute within the law – files a lawsuit, and slowly begins to uncover the company’s secrets.
For José, it’s a film that fits neatly amongst director Todd Haynes’ previous work, which often focuses on power relations and the struggles of the oppressed, sidelined or disenfranchised. For Mike, it might be a new Spotlight, another film about the exposure of vast, historical, institutional wrongdoing. But don’t believe the trailer that makes it look all blood and thunder – Dark Waters, though compelling and dramatic, is a slow burner, methodical and careful, and with a scope that looks beyond the details of the law. The town of Parkersburg, WV is shown in portrait, with shots evocative of Depression-era photography, and Bilott is an interesting character, a man who appears uncomfortable within his own body, whose determination to uncover the truth grows alongside his paranoia that something bad will happen to him, and whose relationship with his wife is a constant that is reframed intriguingly in the film’s final movement.
Dark Waters is a fascinating, intelligent, complex thriller that gives its themes room to express themselves and is full of details and moments that speak to entire inner lives and ways of thinking. Make sure you see it.
(Mike would also like to apologise to Bucky Bailey, one of DuPont’s most unfortunate victims and perhaps the film’s central emotional tentpole, for referring to him as Bucky Barnes, who is the guy from the Avengers films who sports a prosthetic arm and does nothing interesting.)