We return to the work of Youssef Chahine, spurred on by by MUBI’s decision to screen a selection of his works, in what turns out to be marvellous copies. We focus on two of his films, Daddy Amin (1950) and The Devil of the Desert (1954), we compare the visual quality of the MUBI versions to those we saw previously, confirm our admiration for Youssef Chahine’s skills as a director, José takes a dig at the arrogance of a British film culture that assumes one can just move from writing or directing for the stage to directing a movie, and not even Richard can stop José from sighing over Omar.
Hussein returns for a fourth episode to offer us a fascinating Egyptian perspective on the last epoch of Youssef Chahine’s career, beginning with Cairo as Seen By Chahine(1991) and talking us through The Emigrant (94), Destiny (1997),The Other (99). We also touch on The Choice (1970), Silence, on tourne! (2001) and other of his works, though they do remain peripheral to this particular discussion. Hussein offers us a historical and cultural perspective on these later works and also tells us about their reception in Egypt. At the end of the podcast, Hussein presents us with an extended discussion on what he sees as recurring concerns in the cinema of Youssef Chahine: The first can be characterised as labour but is inclusive of Labour unions, the worker, the ‘ordinary person’, the downtrodden; another recurring concern, appearing sometimes as a main subject, sometimes as a throwaway is The Algerian War; lastly, a third major strand is the concern with travel, displacement, immigration, liminality: an exploration that takes on different shape within different films. We are very grateful to Hussein for fleshing out so many of these ideas for us, articulating them so clearly, and giving us many more things to think about when considering Chahine’s ouevre.
The discussion on The Emigrant with Martin Stollery referred to in the podcast can be found here
Also, Hussein provides us with the following links referred to in the podcast:
We return for the third part of our conversation with Hussein, offering an Egyptian perspective on Youssef Chahine’s career, its contexts and its significance. In this episode we touch on ‘The Sparrow’,‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’, ‘Adieu Bonaparte’ and ‘Alexandria…Again and Forever‘. We discuss how one of the songs of The Sparrow was released before the film, and has seeped into Egyptian pop culture without people necessarily knowing its source, like the phrases discussed in our last conversation. We also discuss the famous Egyptian Actor’s Union Strike of 1987, the influence of Netflix, how Alexandria….Again and Forever might be under-appreciated…and more.
We will return for a final episode discussing the last stage of Chahine’s brilliant career beginning with ‘Cairo as Seen by Chahine’.
Hussein helped me find an Egyptian equivalent to imdb to name all the actors that appear in Alexandria Again and Forever as themselves in the depiction of the famous strike, and I include the cast list with the actors named and pictured below:
Hussein redresses some of the political aspects of the films that were quite overlooked in our earlier podcast. Most importantly, the strike by the Egyptian Actors’ Union of 1987. There are very scarce resources on this strike but thankfully Chahine did a whole film revolving around it. The Egyptian parliament had passed laws governing unions that would have allowed the term of each head of the union to run forever. One of the remarkable things about the film is how Chahine filmed the fictional strike in the exact locations where it had happened with the people who had participated in the strike, inserting footage of the actual strike, documentary footage from the union’s conference that was organized as part of the strike. The conference issued a declaration that eventually lead to the government backing down and rolling back the changes in the union law.
The extraordinary Taheyya Kariokka (above) at the height of her fame on the left, and managing the Actor’s Union on the right.
Chahine on the set of Return of the Prodigal Son
Michel Piccoli, Youssef Chahine, Mohsen Mohieddin and director Patrice Chereau, who played Napoleon for Chahine, at the time of Adieu Bonaparte.
We will continue with our fourth and final episode next week
Richard Layne and I return with a discussion of Dawn of a New Day, one of Chahine’s best. It echoes Sirk once more and has traces of An Affair to Remember and European Art Cinema like Antonioni’s La notte (1961) or Fellini’s La dolce vita (1960) whilst remaining very much a popular melodrama about love which is also a commentary on the state of the nation and its future. A very beautiful film and so accessible it’s a real pity it’s not part of the current Netflix package.
Richard and I discuss the very beautiful cinematography by Abdel Aziz Fahmy, and I’ve provided some image capture below to give you a taste of it:
We also discuss the extent to which Chahine deploys Sirk, his style is a kind of vernacular through which Chahine expresses himself whilst also offering a visual analysis which would not be made in prose criticism until a decade later.
Richard and I also discuss melodrama, and how the abandonment of the child lingers over the last part and offers a critique which would be absent had the focus been solely on the love affair. I include it below though sadly without sub-titles.
Richard has also provided the following links which some of you may want to pursue and which I will add to as i come across them:
An extended discussion of Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria, New York. ‘I love American cinema but America doesn’t love me’. Anyone who loves Chahine’s cinema will find this irresistible. A film made by someone who thinks and knows how to visualise and dramatise. We will see it again. The discussion can be listened to in the player below:
Listeners might also be interesting in the clips below which are discussed in the podcast:
Watching Cairo Station in New York.
2. Watching the Girls Go By (and whose gaze is it?).
A bisexual gaze?
A coming full circle:
New York, New York: An Arab Ending.
Whilst scrambling to collect these clips this morning, Richard and I realised that we were speaking in relation to different prints and his findings might be of interest to some of you. Richard writes:
Very interesting – I’m assuming the 2hr 3 version is an Egyptian edit, and the longer one(2h9m) is the French version. Differences I could find are:
Scene at the dance contest: conversation at the bar is shorter and the presentation of the prize is cut (not clear why this is). Young Yehia walks Ginger home after the dance – their final long kiss is cut.
Scene with the peeping landlady – ends when she appears at Yehia’s door. Entire sequence of him showering in her flat and her joining him is gone. (about 2 minutes cut here)
Later scene where Ginger comes to Yehia’s room and they are interrupted by the landlady – their kiss is cut.
End of this scene where Yehia and Ginger go to bed is also cut.
Sex scene in Yehia’s room when he is planning to leave – opening two minutes of this scene has gone, the shorter cut opens at the end of this sequence with them lying in bed together (so, interestingly, it is still OK to show them in bed) 70s scene with the older Yehia and Ginger in his hotel room – mostly intact but the end of this scene is cut.
A discussion of Silence…on tourne focussing on the many characteristic flourishes we like so much in Chahine’s oeuvre but exploring also why they are less satisfying in this particular work. As we can see from Peter Broadshaw’s review here, the film was well reviewed on its original release but we found it less successfully realised than his other films (and this was also the case upon José’s first viewing and the podcast he did on the film with Egyptian filmmaker Tara Shehata).
We reference the ending in the discussion, particularly that great tracking shot/edit from the filming of the musical number to the rejected gigolo watching the finished version at the cinema, and this can be seen below
The Youssef Chahine Podcast returns for a discussion of Destiny, with its images of book burnings, its themes of love and religious tolerance, its genre-bending mix of historical epic and musical extravaganza, and Chahine’s characteristic artfulness with the techne of filmmaking. This and other Chahine films are currently on Netflix in very good versions with english sub-titles. .
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:
A discussion of the Youssef Chahine’s Devil of the Sahara aka The Desert’s Devil aka Devil of the Desert, 1954. We discuss the influence of Zorro and Robin Hood on the film, how Sharif is deployed as a combination of Errol Flynn AND Tyrone Power. We praise the film’s production values; how it’s a piece of entertainment filmed with a verve and flair that comes across even in the very bad copy we had access to. The film has exciting action sequences that make one re-think action in his later films and very successful large-scale musical numbers — the influence of Minnelli is evident throughout — that likewise raises questions about the deliberateness of later choices. A glossy piece of entertainment we both loved even though we saw it in the worst circumstances possible.
A discussion of Nissae Bila Regal, Women Without Men, sometimes also known as Only Women, a Youssef Chahine film from 1953 with superb production values, musical numbers à la MGM and a plot that recalls Federico Garcîa Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. We discuss many of the film’s themes that recur throughout Chahine’s later oeuvre: the influence of Hollywood cinema, melodrama, an exploration of modernisation, gender roles, a discussion of an idea of nation…..and much more.
We mention but did not discuss a lesbian reading of the film because we had not yet read Samar Habib’s excellent discussion of it in A Woman’s Closet is Her Castle: Lesbian Subtext and Corrective Pretext in Women Without Men’, where she also makes the claim that this film ‘gives us our first same-sex subtext in Egyptian cinematic history’. We simply didn’t get it but Habib’s article made us see.
Yaser Hammad is a young Saudi filmmaker as well as the screenwriter of Saudi Arabia’s first ever feature film to be released in Saudi Arabia, Roll’em (2019) . Meeting Yaser here has been one of the great pleasures of doing the Chahine podcast. Not only is he, like us, a great admirer of Chahine but, unlike us, he’s got access to all the Arab writing on Chahine and is much more knowledgeable about actors, songs, the whole pop and social culture around Chahine. His additions, corrections, interventions have been so invaluable that I asked him to join us for this podcast so that our listeners may also benefit. This is a wide-ranging conversation on Chahine’s oeuvre that tries to bring an Arab perspective on the work and, more personally, an account of what Chahine’s work has meant to at least one young Arab filmmaker.
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:
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 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.