Tag Archives: Richard Layne

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 8: The Sparrow/ Le moineau?? Al-Asfour, (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1972)

Al-asfour-AKA-The-Sparrow-1972

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:

 

AD-FOR-MOINEAU

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.

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One detects a more Sirkian turn in the mise-en-scè, 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.

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:

https://madamasr.com/en/2014/08/30/feature/culture/egypts-cinematic-gems-the-sparrow/

This one is also good. It was available on Filmstruck
Barbican listing from a screening in 2017

 

 

José Arroyo

The Youssef Chahine Podcast: No. 6 – The Earth aka The Land (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1969)

 

 

 

 

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:

CHAHINE-PODCAST-6A….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.

 

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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:

 

José Arroyo

 

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 3: Cairo Station/ Bab al-Hadid (The Iron Gate) (1958)

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.

 

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Description of Cairo Station from Bologna’s 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 conflict between modernity and tradition in relation to this excerpt featuring Mike and His Skyrockets, who have their own website but who interestingly don´t mention their appearance in this film. There is even an update from Mike himself.And it turns out that one of the Skyrockets, Asaad Kelada became a director in Hollywood with extensive creditsin television.

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:

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Introduction to Chahine and his work from the 2019 Ritrovato Catalogue

and lastly Mark Cousins also makes for very interesting reading on Cairo Station in his The Story of Film book

José Arroyo

The Youssef Chahine Podcast with José Arroyo and Richard Layne No. 2: Dark Waters aka Struggle in the Pier/ Sira` fi el-Minaa (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1956)

dark water

 

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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.

Screenshot 2020-06-24 at 18.47.17
Omar’s Hamlet

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:

José Arroyo

The Youssef Chahine Podcast, No. 1: The Blazing Sunaka Struggle in the Valley/ Sira` Fi al-Wadi (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1954)

 

 

José Arroyo and Richard Layne discovered the work of Youssef Chahine at a retrospective of his work at Bologna last year, are thrilled that so many previously difficult-to-see films of his are now available on Netflix, and hope that these podcasts encourage people to watch and discuss the films. This is the first in a series. We hope to cover as many of them as possible, and in chronological order. We hope you join us on this journey

 

In Film Alert 101,Peter Hourigan alerts readers to the Chahine treasure trove on Netflix but writes of Blazing Sun: ´BLAZING SUN  (aka Struggle in the Valley 1954, 116 min) An example of his early work, when he was trapped in commercial Egyptian film production. This is a hoary melodrama – but enormously entertaining, and with brilliant b & w photography. There is also an absolutely ravishingly beautiful young man called Michel Chelhoub in the lead.  Later, he was to find fame in the west as Omar Shariff´.

We agree on the film being enormously entertaining and on the extraordinary photography but I also happen to think it´s a great melodrama and a great film, the struggles of the poor against the wickedness of the rich, about love, life, community, the material aspects of life that  reproduce it, all bound with questions of morality and justice. It´s very moving, extraordinarily beautiful to look at — Chahine is a visual poet — and the moments of awkwardness that often accompany cinemas of poverty seem to me to only add to its power. 

A great opportunity to see these films and we hope the podcast will convince you to take a look,

The Blazing Sun

José Arroyo

The Girl With the Pistol/La Ragazza Con Pistola (Mario Monicelli, Italy, 1968)

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I turned everything else off last night to concentrate on Mario Moncelli´s The Girl With the Pistol on TPTV, which has been unavailable in English for yonks. According to Sheldon Hall, it’s never been shown on UK TV until now; and according to Richard Layne, there’s ‘no sign of a home video release either looking at BBFC and a database of pre-cert releases’. The logo at the beginning of the film with ‘the “Paramount Communications” wording dates this to between 1989 and 1995. So presumably a US TV or DVD version’.

paramount communications

I actually liked the sound dubbing, which kept most of the Italian and just translated enough dialogue to enable one to follow the plot. Monica Vitti is the girl who´s been left dishonoured in Sicily and sets out to England to find and kill the man she loved. It´s very funny, great bits of comedy featuring an enormous ponytail at a pub, highlighting the cultural differences between medieval Sicily and Carnaby Street London, and skewering all the macho pretensions. In London, she meets Stanley Baker and Corin Redgrave and by the end, Annunziata becomes an independent woman and gets a different kind of revenge. Monicelli´s film makes everything about Britain in that period seem glamorous and aspirational, and even the extended scene in a gay pub does not descend to cheap laughs or easy condemnation. I love Monicelli. I´d never seen Vitti in a comedy, and she´s a revelation: earthy, beautiful, almost musical in her delivery and her actions, always believable and yet extraordinarily glamorous. It made me want to see all of Monicelli and all of the famous comedies Vitti’s known for in Italy.

Richard Layne informs me that, ‘There’s a nice copy on youtube in the original aspect ratio – TPTV showed it cropped to 4:3. This has the Italian soundtrack although from the bits I’ve looked at the British characters speak a mixture of English and Italian. English subtitles are available.’ That version can be seen below:

 

 

 

 

José Arroyo

Ritrovato re-cap: Quick Millions.

Richard Layne, Nicky Smith, Helen Vincent and I discuss Quick Millions, part of the early sound Fox films programmed at this year´s Ritrovato. We discuss it in relation to other gangster films of the era such as Public Enemy and Scarface, the passage of time montages, the iconography of the suit, Newsies, and the presence of both Spencer Tracy and George Raft, who makes quite an impression dancing. As we wrap up, Bertrand Tavernier walks past.

The film is on youtube and can be seen below: the difference in image and sound quality between this and what we saw in Bologna is reason enough to go to Ritrovato. George Raft´s dance can also be seen below just under the film itself,

 

José Arroyo