Tag Archives: Mohsen Mohieddin

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 15: Adieu Bonaparte (1985)

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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.

José Arroyo

The Youssef Chahine Podcast with José Arroyo and Richard Layne – No. 10: Return of the Prodigal Son/ Awdet el Ebn el Dal, 1976

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:

 

José Arroyo