Youssef Chahine - Director

Nationality: Egyptian. Born: Alexandria, 25 January 1926; name also spelled "Shahin." Education: Victoria College, and Alexandria University; studied acting at Pasadena Playhouse, California, 1946–48.

Youssef Chahine
Youssef Chahine
Career: Returned to Egypt, worked with Italian documentarist Gianni Vernuccio, 1948; introduced to film production by Alvisi Orfanelli, "pioneer of the Egyptian cinema," directed first film, Baba Amine , 1950; introduced actor Omar Sharif, in Sera'a fil Wadi , 1953; voluntary exile in Libya, 1965–67. Awards: Special Jury Prize, Berlin Festival, for Alexandria . . . Why? , 1979; Special Jury Prize, Berlin Festival, for An Egyptian Story , 1982; Lifetime Achievement Award, Cannes Film Festival, 1997.

Films as Director:


Baba Amine ( Father Amine )


Ibn el Nil ( The Nile's Son ); El Muharraj el Kabir ( The Great Clown )


Sayidet el Kitar ( The Lady in the Train ); Nessa bala Rejal ( Women without Men )


Sera'a fil Wadi ( Struggle in the Valley )


Shaitan el Sahara ( Devil of the Desert )


Sera'a fil Mina ( Struggle on the Pier )


Inta Habibi ( You Are My Love )


Wadaat Hobak ( Farewell to Your Love )


Bab el Hadid ( Iron Gate ; Cairo Station ; Gare centrale ) (+ role as Kennawi); Gamila Bohraid (Djamila)


Hub illal Abad ( Forever Yours )


Bayn Ideak ( Between Your Hands )


Nedaa el Ochak ( Lover's Call ); Rajol fi Hayati ( A Man in My Life )


El Naser Salah el Dine ( Saladin )


Fajr Yum Jadid ( Dawn of a New Day )


Baya el Khawatim ( The Ring Seller )


Rimal min Zahab ( Sand of Gold )


El Nas wal Nil ( People and the Nile )


El Ard ( The Land )


Al Ekhtiar ( The Choice )


Al Asfour ( The Sparrow )


Awdat al Ibn al Dal ( Return of the Prodigal Son )


Iskindria . . . Leh? ( Alexandria . . . Why? ) (+ sc)


Hadota Misreya ( An Egyptian Story ; La Memoire ) (+ sc)


Al Wedaa ya Bonaparte ( Adieu Bonaparte )


Sarikat Sayfeya (+ ph)


Iskindiriah Kaman Oue Kaman ( Alexandria Again and Forever ) (+ sc)


Cairo as Told by Youssef Chahine


The Emigrant (+ sc)


Lumière et compagnie ( Lumière and Company )


al-Massir ( Destiny ) (+ co-sc)


L'Autre ( El Akhar ) (+ co-sc)


By CHAHINE: articles—

Interview with C. M. Cluny, in Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1973.

"Entretien avec Youssef Chahine (Le moineau)," by G. Gauthier, in Image et Son (Paris), December 1974.

"Youssef Chahine: Aller aussi loin qu'un peut," interview with N. Ghali, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), December 1974/January 1975.

"Youssef Chahine: La memoire," an interview with Marcel Martin, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1983.

"La verité de personnages," an interview with C. Tesson, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1985.

Interview in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1986.

"Serge le Vaillant," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1992.

Interview with Vincent Vatrican, Thierry Jousse and Stéphane Bouquet, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1995.

On CHAHINE: books—

Richter, Erika, Realistischer Film in Agypten , Berlin, 1974.

Armes, Roy, Third World Filmmaking and the West , Berkeley, 1987.

On CHAHINE: articles—

Arnaud, C., "Youssef Chahine," in Image et Son (Paris), January 1978.

Tournes, A., "Chahine, le nationalisme demystifie: Alexandrie pourquoi? ," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), no. 3, 1979.

Armes, Roy, "Youssef Chahine and Egyptian Cinema," in Framework (Norwich), Spring 1981.

Joseph, I., and C. Jages, "Le Cinéma, l'Egypte et l'histoire," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1982.

Nave, B., A. Tournes, and M. Martin, "Un film bilan: La memoire de Chahine," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), April 1983.

Toubiana, Serge, "Chahine a la conque te de Bonaparte," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1984.

Dossier on Chahine, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), December 1984.

Chaillet, Jean-Paul, "Soleil d'Egypte," in Première (Paris), May 1985.

Kieffer, A., "Youssef Chahine: Un homme de dialogue," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1985.

Tesson, C., "La Descente du Nil," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1986.

Guerin, N., "Youssef Chahine," in Cinema 90 , June 1990.

Amarger, M., "Youssef Chahine," in Ecrans d'Afrique ,(Milan) vol. 3, no. 9/10, 1994.

Warg, P., "Filmmaker in Court Over Pic's Prophets," in Variety , 14/20 November 1994.

Kehr, D., "The Waters of Alexandria," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1996.

* * *

Youssef Chahine is one of the most forceful and complex of Egyptian filmmakers whose progress over the forty years or so since his debut at the age of twenty-four offers remarkable insight into the evolution of Egyptian society. A series of sharply critical social studies—of which The Sparrow in 1975 is undoubtedly the most successful—was interrupted by a heart attack while the director was still in his early fifties. This led him to question his own personal stance and development in a manner unique in Arab cinema, and the result was the splendidly fluent autobiography Alexandria . . . Why? in 1978, which was followed four years later by a second installment titled An Egyptian Story , shot in a style best characterized as an amalgam of Fellini and Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. As such references indicate, Chahine is an eclectic filmmaker whose cosmopolitan attitudes can be traced back to his origins. He was born in Alexandria in 1926 of middle-class parents. His father, a supporter of the nationalist Wafd party, was a scrupulous but financially unsuccessful lawyer, and Chahine was brought up as a Christian, educated first at religious school and then at the prestigious Victoria College, where the language of tuition was English. After a year at Alexandria University he persuaded his parents to allow him to study drama for two years at Pasadena Playhouse, near Los Angeles, and on his return to Egypt he plunged into the film industry, then enjoying a period of boom in the last years of King Farouk's reign.

Alexandria . . . Why? presents a vividly drawn picture of this vanished world: Alexandria in 1942, awaiting the arrival of Rommel's troops, who, it is hoped, will finally drive out the British. The film is peopled with English soldiers and Egyptian patriots, aristocrats, and struggling bourgeoises, the enthusiastic young and their disillusioned or corrupt elders. Chahine mocks the excesses of the nationalists (his terrorist patriots are mostly caricatures), leaves condemnation of Zionism to Jews, and tells love stories that cross the neatly drawn barriers separating Muslim and Jew, Egyptian aristocrat and English Tommy. The revelation of Chahine's own background and a few of his personal obsessions (as with the crucified Christ) seems to have released fresh creative powers in the director. His technique of intercutting the action with scenes from Hollywood musicals and newsreel footage from the Imperial War Museum in London is as successful as it is audacious, and the transitions of mood are brilliantly handled.

Chahine is a key figure in Third World cinema. Unlike some of the other major filmmakers who also emerged in the 1950s—such as Satyajit Ray or Lester James Peries—he has not turned his back on commercial cinema. He has always shown a keen desire to reach a wide audience, and Alexandria . . . Why? , though personal, is by no means an inaccessible or difficult work. Chahine's strength as a filmmaker lies indeed in his ability to combine mainstream production techniques with a very individual style and approach. Though intensely patriotic, he has shown a readiness to criticize government policies with which he does not agree, such as those of the late President Sadat. It is ironic therefore that the appearance of Alexandria . . . Why? should have coincided with the Camp David agreements between Egypt and Israel. As a result, Chahine's very personal statement of his belief in a tolerant society came to be widely criticized in the Arab world as an opportunistic political statement and a justification of Sadat's policies.

His underlying commitment to the making of an Egyptian identity, history, and memory is evident in his more recent works as well. The 1984 Adieu Bonaparte , a Franco-Egyptian co-production, portrays an East-West encounter through an Egyptian family during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. Chahine's continuous efforts to reconstruct and forge an Egyptian-ness , "to be nothing but Egyptian," can be most clearly seen in the ways in which he strives to retell this history from a strictly Egyptian perspective and none other. Chahine's endeavor may not be unique among the whole array of Third World filmmakers who act and/or re act against the West. However, given his own involvement and interests in the Western arts and influences, which not too many non-Western filmmakers could in fact claim to be devoid of, it is his inventiveness in forms and consistency in content that make Chahine an important filmmaker in Egypt in particular and in the non-Western filmmaking world in general.

—Roy Armes, updated by Guo-Juin Hong

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