Tag Archives: Youssef Chahine

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

Al-asfour-AKA-The-Sparrow-1972

A dense and rich political film with extraordinary mise-en-scène that begins with an open letter to the Egyptian people and ends with Nasser informing Egypt of the loss of the Six Day War with Israel and announcing his resignation as the people take to the streets. The Sparrow is perhaps the least pleasurable of his films to watch but very rewarding indeed. The more we talked about it and the more we read, the richer the film becomes. The podcast can be listened to below:

 

I made an ad announcing the podcast earlier in the week. I want to keep it here for the obvious homoeroticism it displays:

 

AD-FOR-MOINEAU

but one which rhymes on another level this clip below:

 

In the podcast we discuss this extraordinary scene with the women guerillas and the extraordinary editing that ends the sequence:

We also discuss at length the boy’s attempts to get to the holy shrine, the picaresque hero always cheated, lied to; weak, powerless, and yet determined to go on to his destination. He symbolises the little sparrow in the film, Egypt’s youth, and the future

We discuss the use of zooms in the film, and as you can see below, the edit on the rythm of the zoom itself, whilst also exemplifying Chahine’s way of often placing a figure in a crowd.

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One detects a more Sirkian turn in the mise-en-scè, frames within frames, the screen broken up into different partitions compositionally but also bringing in different degrees of depth into play, all of this within the conveyance and critique of a nostalgia for English Colonialism.

We discuss this dream sequence that echoes an earlier critique of the male gaze as a violation.

 

An finally, the extraordinary last sequence with Nasser handing resigning over the loss of the Six Day War.

People may also want to take a closer look at this image capture for a closer look at mise-en-scène (the use of space, mirrors, the filming from inside, and many other stylistic characteristics we’ve been discussing in the podcasts to now) but also for the way they illuminate thematic issues:

 

Aside from the books mentioned in the podcast, readers may also find the following interesting, courtesy of Richard Layne:

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

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

 

 

José Arroyo

The Youssef Chahine Podcast with José Arroyo and Richard Layne: No. 4 Saladin aka Saladin the Victorious/ Al Nasser Salah Ad-Din (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1963)

 

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).

malek khouri

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:

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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.

Richard also pointed me to a youtube clip from the Doctor Who version – Saladin played in blackface but sympathetic in opposition to Richard the Lionheart (we discuss Saladin’s  ‘whitefacing’ of westerners in the podcast);  and a trailer for the 1954 version of King Richard and the Crusaders, which looks hilarious. But again it seems to be a sympathetic portrayal of Saladin and the villains are Richard’s underlings.

chahine

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.

In the UK however, Time Out, wrote a very dismissive three-line review.

 

José Arroyo

 

 

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

Our third podcast on Youssef Chahine films, this one on Cairo Station, a combination of Dickensian melodrama, Marxist analysis, neorealist aspirations, film noir techniques, and with a contemporary relevance in its Incel-on-a-rampage theme. A brilliant work, probably the best we’ve seen so far (though those with a penchant for romance might prefer The Blazing Sun or Dark Waters).  The podcast can be listened to here:

 

In the past few podcasts we´ve been noting how wrong wikipedia is in its description of the films so far, and how it is evident from so many of the reviews that many reviewers haven´t seen the films well enough to describe them accurately.Richard even refers us to the BFI.An exception to this pattern is this brief description of the film in the Ritrovato catalogue.

 

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Description of Cairo Station from Bologna’s Ritrovato Catalogue

 

These are excerpts from the film that are described or referred to in the podcast: we. talk about the sensuality in the film and how shocking that must have been in its time

We talk about the conflict between modernity and tradition in relation to this excerpt featuring Mike and His Skyrockets, who have their own website but who interestingly don´t mention their appearance in this film. There is even an update from Mike himself.And it turns out that one of the Skyrockets, Asaad Kelada became a director in Hollywood with extensive creditsin television.

We talk about the film noir elements in a film that has often been described as neorealist and of the extraordinary conceptualisation of shots and use of depth of field, which can be seen in this excerpt-

Likewise the images below are illustrations of some of the aspects discussed in the podcast, the compositions, the themes of sexual obsession, labour organising, the compositions, the way the frame is peopled, etc.:

Lastly, a description of Chahine and his career from the Ritrovato catalogue:

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Introduction to Chahine and his work from the 2019 Ritrovato Catalogue

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

José Arroyo

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

dark water

 

rj2

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.

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Omar’s Hamlet

There’s a dramatisation of class in the film with lots of parallelisms between aunt and niece and also what turns out, in typical melodramatic form, two brothers raised on opposite sides of a considerable class divide. One begins to detect patternings in Chahine’s films, the extraordinary compositions, the visual poetry, the excitement of the narrative, the visual beauty of the production, a Hollywood-style story telling with a grand romantic finale that takes advantage of the teaming of Sharif and Faten Hamama, glamorous stars that were then a real life couple. There are long takes that often involve difficult orchestrations of movements of large numbers of people. This and The Blazing Sun are also melodramas where, like in noir, it is the man who’s wounded and suffers for love, often due to his own misapprehensions. In spite of certain macho attitudes now alien to us, the film remains engaging, exciting and revealing.

You can see some of the points made above illustrated in the images below:

 

The podcast may be listened to below:

 

Those of you who speak French may want to listen to this charming interview between these ‘two legends of Arab cinema’ where Sharif talks about how he had two strokes of incredible luck in his career, one to be discovered by Chahine whilst he was drinking tea and launched into a career as a film star with The Blazing Sun, and then to be cast by David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia, ‘we were young and beauiful then, now we look like an image of the apocalypse,’ says Sharif.  ‘I saw first saw him in the Cinema,’ says Chaine and didn’t take me long to cruise him. How could someone be so beautiful. Then, as he said, I saw him again in a tearoom, Chahine tells a funny story about how they went to the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia together, Sharif shaking because he didn’t know how he was going to be received and then it went well and Chahine was left at the premiere in London dressed in a tux and without a cent. They joke that after that they didn’t see each other for forty years. They went to the same school where they were taught to be ‘gentlemen’ and the interviewer talks of how Shariff represents the greatness, splendor and charm of the Arab world in the West.’ For his part the charmingly self-deprecating Sharif talks about all the mistakes he made, and how Chahine deplored his choices. He also talks interestingly that the only women he knew and lived with and truly loved were his mother and the delicious presence that is FAten Hamama.

The entry on Dark Waters from the 2019 Ritrovato catalogue may be seen below:

José Arroyo