A discussion of the first day’s digital programming for 2020’s Cinema Ritrovato. The films discussed include Grape of Wrath, Daisy Kenyon,The Spider’s Stratagem, documentaries on Maria Blaseti, The Taviani Brothers, Babylon in Hollywood and two silent short film: Tontolino and The New Made is Too Much of a Flirt. The podcast can be listened to below:
Here are some random but beautiful images of the day’s programme, captured haphazardly:
Contrast the restored image above to the version available on youtube below:
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 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 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
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)
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,
Richard Laine has been able to track another Faten Hamama/ Omar Shariff vehicle, with English sub-titles if not in the best condition, and you can see it here:
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’.
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:
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,
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