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:
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 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:
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.
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.
Martin Stollery is the author of a monograph on Youssef Chahine’s The Emigrant (see below), the most sustained analysis of any one Youssef Chahine film I’ve been able to find in English. The film is available to see on Netflix and seems more pertinent and resonant than ever. In the podcast above Martin and I discuss the film itself; how it allegorises; the meaning and uses of water in Chahine’s films; the famous court case that is part of the context of the film’s release; and the tension between the film’s relationship to Biblical epics as well as Youssef Chahine’s more personal style of filmmaking. An illuminating discussion of texts, contexts and modes of analysis that ends with a renewed appreciation of Chahine’s achievements as a director.
In conversation, Martin mentioned that his work on Chahine was sparked by a series of Arab films programmed by Channel Four in the late 80s/ early 90s. I asked Sheldon Hall to check up on this for me, and he generously provided a pdf of all the films screened from 88-91, which you Chahine-films-1988-91. Sheldon notes that ‘For the record, the Arab ‘season’ seems to have been only three films: ALYAM ALYAM, CAIRO CENTRAL STATION (sic) and REED DOLLS. CCS was repeated in the Cinema of Three Continents series on 05/08/1990. ALEXANDRIA ENCORE was shown in the same series on 17/11/1991. The TVT review is by David Quinlan, the RT one by Derek Winnert. First showing of CCS was 08/02/1988′.
The Youssef Chahine Podcast has never been so lucky before: you can now see the film on Netflix, listen to the discussion above, and then follow up the author’s discussion by reading the book on the film.
The French legal scholar Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron has published a nice piece on the trial: Bernard-Maugiron N. “Legal Pluralism and the Closure of the Legal Field: the al-Muhajir Case”. In B. Dupret, M. Berger et L. al-Zwaini (eds.), Legal Pluralism in the Arab World, Kluwer Law International, La Haye-Londres-Boston, 1999, 173-189.
Below is the shot mentioned by Martin in the podcast from Cairo as Told by Chahine – about fourteen minutes into the film – ‘quotidian spirituality and the sensuality of cinema combined in an inclusive, utopian image of what Chahine wants Egyptian culture to be’.
This is the longest trailer Martin’s been able to find for the Marianne Khoury film:
I include the gif I made to advertise this podcast
….as well as the trailer, merely because I had fun making them and they do give a flavour of the film:
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 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 real find, the director´s cut of a celebrated film maudit, currently made available on the Henri platform through the great generosity of the Cinémathèque Française until the 15th of July. A celebration of the Soviet-Egyptian collaboration that resulted in the building of the Aswan Dam, this film is also a critique of the dispossession and displacement it led to, a feminist critique of the loss of identity that accompanies following a husband to a new country, it can also very much be read as an inter-racial queer romance in the midst of the wrenching transformations brought on by Modernity. An extraordinary film that works on many levels, has an epic narrative sweep to accompany its 70mm Cinemascope specs, but that always brings the personal to the political and does so poetically through word, image and sound. A masterpiece of the cinema. Ou discussion of it can be listened to below:
Some of the clips discussed in the podcast can be seen below:
A poster for Youssef Chahine’s 1963 action film ‘Saladin’ (original title: ‘El Naser Salah el Dine’) starring Ahmed Mazhar. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s Saladin which offers some context on the cinematic representation of Saladin in relation to Richard the Lion Heart, some historical information in its relation to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s efforts to maintain a United Arab Republic, and Chahine’s attempts to narrate those aspirations through the story of Saladin. We admire the film’s use of the CinemaScope frame, its staging in depth, its use of colour, and editing; and bemoan the way some of the action is directed. A huge popular success in its day. An Arab answer to the epics then so popular in Hollywood, not least in offering an Arab point-of-view on the Crusades; and a cultural mainstay through its regular rotation on television: this was also reputedly Nasser’s favourite film.
As time goes on, Richard and I are becoming better informed, partly just through watching more of Chahine’s work, but also through the arrival of different types of information that we will post on here as and when we get it. This week’s arrivals are a wonderful book on Chanine’s work by Malek Khouri, The Arab National Project in Youssef Chahine’s Cinema (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2010).
According to Khouri, ‘When Chahine embarked on the making of Saladin (1963) the atmosphere in Egypt and the Arab world was still experienced (sic) the negative effects of the failure of the attempt to create a United Arabl Republic (AUR). The disbanding of the Union in the aftermath of a secessionist military coup d’état in Syria in 1961) was a major blow to the Nasser revolution and its pan-Arab project. Whilt the move in Damascus exposed frustrations with repressive Egyptian administrative and political praactices in Syria with the miliatry and economic elite, the secession, nevertheless, did not reflect the deep-rooted pro-Arab unity sentiments in Syria. Jst two years later a counter coup took place in Damascus, restoring pro-union supporters to power. TheUnited Arab Republic, however, did not re-emerge after the change of leadership in Damascus, and Egypt alone remained in the union until its name was changed in 1971 after the death of Nasser’ (p.42).
Khouri sees Chahine’s film as ‘the most pivotal of the 1960’s) and one ‘clearly informed by this critical moment in contemporary Arab history with all its preoccupations, hopes, and anxieties over the prospect of national unity’ (p.44).
According to Chahine himself, ‘in Saladin, I was not hesitant in telling Christians that they were wrong in coming over to occupy our land. I, myself a Christian, have lived in the heart of Muslim culture where 90 per cent of the people whom I loved were Muslims…From the time of Andalusia to (today’s) Alexandria, the idea of diversity within a predominantly Muslim culture has been much more integrated than it has ever been within mostly Christina societies. There are not just words…This is exactly how I feel (cited in Khouri, p.45). The podcast can be listened to below:
I have included some clips we refer to in the podcast. Here the murder of the pilgrims which Khouri praises for its use of colour and for its focus, ‘on the symbolic rathe than on literal interpretation and presentation).
The film has marvellous cutting and a very inventive use of CinemaScope. Khouri notes how ‘Theatrical and print advertisements touted its Cinemascope technology (a first in Arab Cinema), its star power (an ensemble featuring many popular Egyptian actors), and its massive number of extras.
You can further admire the use of widescreen and staging in depth in the clip below, though I posted it mainly for its unusual portrait of female warriors (though admittedly Virginia is also the villain of the piece)
The film has brilliant use of a dramatic, theatrical, split screen:
The film provides further proof of the sensuality evident in Chahine, such as in the clip below where a dancing girl is paid to gather information.
and the homoeroticism is also evident:
According to Khouri, ‘The film positions Saladin as a man of moral integrity, in radical contrast to the way he has traditionally been imagined in western cinema’ (p.45). Richard, however, argues that this is not quite the case, pointing to De Mille’s The Crusades (1935) and providing the original New York Times review of the film which argues that, ‘A gallant victor, Saladin abandoned his plan to add Berengaria to his harem, sent her back to Richard and threw the Holy City open to Moslems and Christians alike.It is Saladin, in fact, who emerges as the real hero of the photoplay.’ This view is ratified by a recent review of the same film in The Guardian.
The other arrival this week that enhanced my understanding of Saladin was Twflik Hakem’s book of interviews with Chahine, Youseff Chahine, Le révolutionnaire tranquille (Paris: Capricci, 2018). There, Hakem claims Chaine convinced President Nasser that Saladin could be no other than himself and charmed him into putting his army and his administration at Chahine’s disposal so he could make the film (Tu as pu faire croire au président Nasser que Saladin ça ne puvait être autre que lui et il a mis à ta dispoition son armée et son administration pour que tupuisses mettre en chantier une superproduction et réaliser ton rêve hollywoodien’ (loc 256 of 1750 on Kindle).
We learn from Hakem that Nasser adored the film and Chahine tells him, ‘yes, he wanted a copy on hand (by his bed). Whenever a visitor came to see him, he had the film projected. He would usually fall asleep because he’d seen it hundreds of times but would wake up at the end and say ‘good he?’ All of that is true but the first truth is that the film is not at all to the glory of Nasser, it’s nreally not. (Oui, il avait une copie du film sous le lit. Chaque visiteur qui venait le voir, il lui faisait projeter dans sa salle de projection. Lui dormait, parce qu’l avait vu cent foies et il se révellait juste avant la fin pour dire au visiteur: v”Alors? C’est bien hein? Tout cela est vrai mais la véritér première est que le film n’est pas du tout à la gloire de Nasser, mais vraiment pas.’
The Ritrovato Catalogue’s entry on the film is below:
According to Khouri, Saladin was extremely popular, ‘in a contemporary assessment of the overwhelming popular uccess of the film, a local newspaper described how Saladin played to full houses in almost every large theatre in Cairo and Alexandria for weeks in order to allow pople to watch it along with their entire families: ‘This is a film which makes us all feel proud…and it is a miracle indeed that it was made in the first place (p.49)! The film continues to resonate across the Arab world. Over twenty-six years after the film was released, according to Khouri, one local critic wrote, ‘I asked a friend of mine, a woodworker, did you see the film Saladin last night and he said, If this film was shown a hundred times in a hundred days I would still sit and watch it.
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