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. .
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:
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.
The podcast can be listened to below:
Richard mentions an excellent print was screened at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival last year. This is the festival’s entry below:
The version we saw was an atrocious copy from facebook that we are nonetheless thankful for and which can be accessed here:
If you want to follow up on the discussion of Sharif’s international career here is the trailer for Oh, Heavenly Dog:
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.
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 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 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 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
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)