Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Youssef Chahine - one of Cinema's legends passes

On Sunday Egyptian Cinema's most beloved directors passed away Sunday July 27th in Cairo at the age of 82 after a month long coma resulting from a brain hemorrage.

Youssef Chahine's career spanned close to 6 decades during which he directed over 40 feature length films. He was lauded for his talents as director, writer, producer, and actor. His 1954 romantic drama Sira' fi al Wadi (The Blazing Sun) launched the career of actor Omar Sharif. He worked with legendary singers including Dalida and Fairouz. He will be missed not only in his native Egypt, the Arab world but internationally as well. As Khaled Youssef noted "Youssef Chahine brought Egyptian cinema to the world stage." A true master of his craft Chahine was the 3rd recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.

He began his career with the film Baba Amin (Daddy Amin) 1950 after he returned to Egypt from a few years in America studied acting at the Pasadena Institute. 1958 saw Chahine finally come into his own with Bab al-Hadid (Cairo Station). His first overtly political film was an anti-colonial story Jamila Al-Jaza'iriyya( Jamila the Algerian) 1958. In 1963 he completed El Nasser Salah Eddine(Saladin) his widescreen color epic loosely based on the Muslim hero who defeated the Crusaders. His 1969 film Al-Ard (the Earth) based on a novel by Adel Rahman al- Sharqawi is an epic tale of peasants in Nile Delta. The film took 8 years to complete and is considered his chef d'oeuvre. After the six-day war in 1967 that Chahine's work became more and more political. His Al Mohaguer (The Emigrant) 1994 was the cause of a scandal again. Chahine was accused in the fundamentalist view of representing a prophet, in this case the retelling of the story of Joseph, which is forbidden in the Qur'an. A lawsuit was filed which Chahine eventually won. In 2002, a year after the Twin Towers collapsed in New York, he contributed an 11 minute short for the film 11"09'01 which was criticised in the US for being"anti- american."

Chahine was raised in Alexandria, the setting for the films in the autobiographical trilogy: Iskandeiria..Leh? (Alexandria Why?)1978, Hadduta Misriyya (An Egyptian Story) 1982 and Iskindiria Kamen wa Kamen (Alexandria Again and Again)1990. The trilogy portrays his early childhood, his love of Hollywood, and his ambiguous feelings for America. Iskandeiria..Leh? (Alexandria Why?) was recompensed with a Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival that year.

The cinematic career of Youssef Chahine was prolific and his achievements are undeniable. Through his creativity and his ability to respond to the times in which he lived, Youssef Chahine made a significant impact on the history of cinema. He will be missed.

Trailer for the film Heya Fawda (This is Chaos) 2007 , his last film co - directed with Khaled Youssef. The film is a critique on the Egyptian government's crackdown on democracy activists.

Clip from El Maseer (Destiny) (1997) is a cinematic response to censorship and religious fanaticism.

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