The Youssef Chahine Podcast returns for a discussion of Destiny, with its images of book burnings, its themes of love and religious tolerance, its genre-bending mix of historical epic and musical extravaganza, and Chahine’s characteristic artfulness with the techne of filmmaking. This and other Chahine films are currently on Netflix in very good versions with english sub-titles. .
Richard Layne returns to discuss Youssef Chahine’s fascinating musical in the light of Tara Shehata’s great podcast on the film last week. We discuss the film’s achievements as a musical, the catchiness of the music, the appeal of Hind Rustum and Shadia, the woodenness of Farid El-Atrash, and the influence of the screwball, particularly Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (1942). The podcast can be listened to below:
In the podcast, Richard discusses how C’es toi mon amour is the film that immediately precedes Cairo Station and Jamila the Algerian, and how it is worth comparing the two musical numbers set on a train in Cairo Station and in C’es toi mon amour in the light of themes of modernity, tradition, progress and personal freedom. You can see the clips below:
The Youssef Chahine Podcast talks to Cairo filmmaker Tara Shehata about two Youssef Chahine musicals, C’es toi mon amour/ ENTA HABIBI (1957) and Silence, on tourne!/Skoot hansawwar (2001).
The podcast can be listened to here:
Hind Rostom and Farid al-Atrash in C’est toi mon amour:
Farid Al-Atrash and Shadia Yassmin:
Opening number of Silence, on tourne!:
Cinematographer Pierre Dupouey on filming with Chahine:
In response to a comment on the podcast, Saudi filmmaker Yaser Hammad, who featured in our of our recent podcasts, notes that: ‘That also happened in “An Egyptian Story” the AD on set in the first scene is Youssry Nassrallah. Who also became a director and Chahine produced his first films which are on Netflix as well. He had a number of ADs who later on became great directors. like Dawood Abdelsayed, Redwan Elkashif, Khaled Youssef and many more’.
A discussion of Tamer El Said’s In the Last Days of the City, currently screening as part of the program for Safar 2020, hosted by the Arab British Centre. The program of films can now be seen from home until the 20th of September and you can follow the link here: www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk/
In the podcast we discuss the film’s combination of documentary and fiction, It’s self-reflexiveness and it’s formal beauty. The film dramatises a dilemma of a film within a film that the filmmaker can’t make cohere whilst avoiding that very same dilemma for itself by bringing in structural elements (the four friends, the increasing force of theocracy, the national football team’s wins, the search for an apartment, the loss of a relationship, the consolations of poetry in world characterised by alienation.
Jeff Reichert has written a lovely appreciation of the film in Film Comment which can be accessed here:
The podcast can be listened to below:
There’s an interesting article that brings in Chahine into a discussion of the film here:
…and this other interesting article on cinema in Cairo that also mentions Tamer El Said and Chahine:
The following is a series of images discussed in the podcast:
These are just frame grabs from the film captured because they’re either so beautiful or o expressive or both.
The wonderful discussion that followed the screening can be viewed here below. I found Tamer El Said’s commentary very articulate and surprisingly moving:
A discussion of Nissae Bila Regal, Women Without Men, sometimes also known as Only Women, a Youssef Chahine film from 1953 with superb production values, musical numbers à la MGM and a plot that recalls Federico Garcîa Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. We discuss many of the film’s themes that recur throughout Chahine’s later oeuvre: the influence of Hollywood cinema, melodrama, an exploration of modernisation, gender roles, a discussion of an idea of nation…..and much more.
We mention but did not discuss a lesbian reading of the film because we had not yet read Samar Habib’s excellent discussion of it in A Woman’s Closet is Her Castle: Lesbian Subtext and Corrective Pretext in Women Without Men’, where she also makes the claim that this film ‘gives us our first same-sex subtext in Egyptian cinematic history’. We simply didn’t get it but Habib’s article made us see.
Yaser Hammad is a young Saudi filmmaker as well as the screenwriter of Saudi Arabia’s first ever feature film to be released in Saudi Arabia, Roll’em (2019) . Meeting Yaser here has been one of the great pleasures of doing the Chahine podcast. Not only is he, like us, a great admirer of Chahine but, unlike us, he’s got access to all the Arab writing on Chahine and is much more knowledgeable about actors, songs, the whole pop and social culture around Chahine. His additions, corrections, interventions have been so invaluable that I asked him to join us for this podcast so that our listeners may also benefit. This is a wide-ranging conversation on Chahine’s oeuvre that tries to bring an Arab perspective on the work and, more personally, an account of what Chahine’s work has meant to at least one young Arab filmmaker.
The podcast can be listened to below:
Below you’ll find the trailer for Roll ‘Em, in which Chahine makes an appearance:
Many thanks to Yaser for contributing to the podcast. Richard and I hope many more of you will join in on the many conversations to be had on the work of Youssef Chahine.
A discussion of the seventh and last day of Ritrovato’s digital programming in full: Imperfect Crimes, To Kill a Child/ Att döda ett barn (Gösta Werner, 1953), Aimé Césaire – Le masque des mots (Sarah Maldoror, 1987), Mia madre – Giuditta Rissone (Anna Masecchia/ Michela Zegna, 2020), Ich War Neunzehn/ I was Nineteen (Konrad Wolf, 1968), Sepa, nuestro señor de los Milagros/ Sepa, Our Lord of Miracles (Walter Saxer, 1987) and, last but not least, Fail Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964).
We end the podcast with a discussion of the pros and cons of the digital experience of this year’s Ritrovato. We offer thanks and appreciation to the Ritrovato team for succeeding in putting on the festival in traditional form in Bologna itself, but also for taking the trouble to provide this digital offering for those of us who COVID prevented from going to Bologna as planned. A massive thanks. It was greatly appreciated.
The podcast can be listened to below:
Frinds of Ritrovato might also welcome seeing this goodbye from the festival itself:
David Cairns does a good summary of both’ Imperfect Crimes ‘compilations , which we don´t really cover them in detail and you can access it here:
Friends might also be interested in this image capture from:
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
A discussion of Le sixième jour, which Chahine dedicates to Gene Kelly as a thank you for having filled his youth with joy. A rare Chahine film that is centred on a female star, female desire and female self-actualisation in a patriarchal culture. A hybrid of a woman’s film and musical. It’s set during a cholera pandemic, which resonates with the present, and also features a story of the unrequited love of a 26 year old street performer for an unhappy and much older housewife, one that still feels transgressive. Richard loved it very much. I less so. But we agree that it remains essential viewing for fans of Dalida and Youssef Chahine.
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:
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 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 Evan Purchell’s great new film, Ask Any Buddy, just shown recently at Boston´s Wicked Queer Film Festival. The film is a compilation of clips from 126 gay porn films from the early 70s to the mid 80s that construct a narrative of different ways of life and structures of feeling of post-Stonewall/ pre-AIDS North American gay male cultures. It richly depict a cultural history of gay male life in relation to places and spaces as well as desires, ideas of self, relationships, romance and liberation. It’s terrific. The discussion revolves not only around the film itself but a discussion of history and culture sparked by the film´s images and narrative.
Evan Purchell has also started a new podcast, incredibly knowledgeable and yet fun and accessible that goes through each of the films, very detailed in its account of the people involved, the making of the individual film as well as the ways each circulated. It´s also a kind of queer cultural history taking porn as a springboard to history and discourse, really smart and lovely to hear (I love how one of the commentators refers to a hard-core sex scene as ‘adorable´)
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,
Disclosure, not the Demi Moore/ Michael Douglas hit from 1994 but the documentary on the history of representation of trans people currently on Netflix, is a fascinating film that incites conversation. I wanted to talk to Kacey de Groot on it because, as a trans woman and trans activist, she’s in a position to teach us a lot about the issues the film raises. The conversation ranges from the film itself, to other representations in films and television (A Fantastic Woman, Pose, Transparent) to an account of areas of personal experience the film incited on to broader areas relating to the politics of representation. I’m a teacher and listening is part of learning and land learning and teaching are inextricably bound in inexhaustible ways. The podcast can be listened to here.
In Conversation With…Professor John Mercer on: Rock Hudson; the work of Mark Rappaport and François Reichenbach, currently available to see on the Henri platform of the Cinémathèque Françaisse; as well as on fragments of queer visual histories.
I had been so excited by what I thought was a discovery of two films by François Reichenbach — Last Spring and Nus masculins, both from 1954, — on the Henri platform of the Cinémathèque Française that I wanted to talk to someone about them. Along with the Reichenbach, Henri was also showing Mark Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) so I thought John Mercer, with his work on Rock Hudson and his knowledge of histories of queer visual representation would be ideally placed to discuss the significance of all of these works, which if you listen to the above, will see that did indeed turn out to be the case, and for which I express my thanks.
Rappaport is of course now a famous filmmaker and celebrated as a pioneering video essayist. J. Hoberman wrote of Mike Rapapport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, quite briefly but beautifully I think, in an article for The Village Voice which you can see below:
I knew of Reichenbach as an award-winning documentarian, and I had seen L’Amérique insolite (1961), so I knew that his work had very considerably queer overtones. But I had never seen these two films and I was bowled over by them, seeing them as part of a matrix of confluences of queer mid-century visual imagery that connected Cocteau, Genet and Anger with Reichenbach and in turn connected Reichenbach with later filmmakers such as Derek Jarman and Isaac Julien. It turns out that Last Spring was not as little know as I initially thought, with Julianne Pidduck having written this below in the updated version of Richard Dyer’s Now You See It: Studies in Lesbian and Gay Film, crediting Thomas Waugh with ‘discovering’ Last Spring at the Kinsey Institute:
and Waugh himself writing on the film in his Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from their Beginnings to Stonewall:
I made two trailers to help publicise the Cinémathèque screenings of the films, which I include here because I hope they evoke their flavour; and which will at least allow you to look at some of the imagery contained in them. You can see them below:
Nus masculins( 1954):
and Late Spring (1954):
I also made an ad for the podcast at the very top with John Mercer, which will also hopefully evoke some of the flavour of Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies:
Both Rappaport’s work and particularly Reichenbach’s deserve to be better known,
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: