Grand Master of Arab Cinema
“Youssef Chahine was the leading voice of the Arab cinema for over half a century…his abiding worth, inside Egypt and out, has been in his outspoken expression of the conscience of his country. He took on imperialism and fundamentalism alike, celebrated the liberty of body and soul, and offered himself warts and all as an emblem of his nation. Egypt’s modern history is etched in his life’s work.”--Nick Bradshaw, Guardian
From January 2 though February 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents a retrospective selection of the films of Youssef Chahine, who died this past July at the age of 82. Through more than fifty years of active work, Chahine reigned as Egypt’s premier director, producing 44 films, winning the world’s most prestigious festival prizes, and discovering stars including Omar Sharif. Thanks to the efforts of Typecast Releasing, we present a newly restored 35mm print of Chahine’s masterful and greatly acclaimed CAIRO STATION as the centerpiece of the series.
Chahine was born in 1926 of Christian parents in Alexandria, a sophisticated and multi-cultural city that was to figure prominently in many of his films. From an early age, he was a fan of Hollywood movies, and, as a young man, spent two years studying acting at Pasadena Playhouse in Los Angeles. As a film director, he was both a social realist and a canny entertainer, fearlessly blending genres to forge his own unique style of story-telling. He even incorporated newsreels, musical numbers, and home movies into his work, notably ALEXANDRIA, WHY?
Themes of openness and tolerance are threaded through Chahine’s work. A pioneer, he often faced opposition, and films including THE SPARROW had been banned in Egypt upon first release. Audiences responded to the overt sensuality of CAIRO STATION by rioting and ripping the seats out of cinemas. Chahine’s frank treatment of sexual relationships and homosexuality was a first in the Arab world, as was the unabashed autobiographical nature of some of his work. A true original, Youssef Chahine told his own story even as he told Egypt’s story in the age of cinema.
Special thanks to Alex Williams of Arab Film Distribution.
1972, Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 105 min.
With Salah Kabil, Ali El Scherif
This story of divided loyalties and rampant corruption centers on a family torn by political differences as Egypt is swept into defeat in the 1967 Six Day War with Israel. A passionate, incisive social study, THE SPARROW was banned for a time in Egypt but remains one of Chahine’s most popular films. The adopted son of a high-ranking police official and brother to a soldier at the front faces a crisis of conscience as he searches for his real father, rumored to be a left-wing activist. In Arabic with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
Friday, January 2, 8:00 pm
Monday, January 5, 6:00 pm
1978, Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 133 min.
With Mohsen Mohieddin, Ezzat El Alaili
This first of Chahine’s four autobiographical features takes a deliriously eclectic approach to the coming-of-age genre, creating a lively, raucous time capsule of his beloved city in the process. Set in the 1940s, the story follows the director’s theater-crazed alter-ego Yehia Mourad (Mohiedden), living with his family above a cabaret lounge, as he navigates a wildly multi-ethnic society that anxiously anticipates the arrival of Rommel’s troops and departure of the British. Chahine brilliantly incorporates newsreel footage and even bits of Esther Williams musicals, illustrating Mourad’s flights of fancy and setting the stage for his Hollywood-bound dreams. In Arabic with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
Sunday, January 4, 3:00 pm
Tuesday, January 6, 7:45 pm
1969, Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 130 min.
With Hamdy Ahmed, Yehia Chahine
Voted the best Egyptian film of all time by critics, THE LAND powerfully chronicles the centuries-old struggle of Nile valley cotton-farming peasants against the wealthy landowners who would deny them access to the river’s essential waters. Chahine adapted Abdel-Rahman el-Sharqawi’s novel with a trademark blend of realism and melodrama, focusing on a village where a love triangle symbolizes the tragic conflict between the old ways and the new. In Arabic with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
Sunday, January 11, 3:00 pm
Tuesday, January 13, 7:45 pm
Restored 35mm print!
(BAB EL HADID)
1958, Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 79 min.
With Farid Shawqi, Youssef Chahine
“The Chahine of CAIRO STATION is a world-class engineer of expressionistic gothic shadow effects whose restless camera seems to peer into the souls of his fevered characters.”--David Chute, L.A. Weekly
“A heady mix of moods and genres…a musical, a slasher film, a neorealist drama, a comedy, and a horror film--come to think of it, it’s pretty noir as well.”--Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
CAIRO STATION is a masterpiece that took twenty years to find worldwide acclaim after Egyptian audiences responded to its unprecedented sensuality and realism by rioting in the theaters. Chahine maneuvers the gripping story from low comedy to high drama when a gnarled newspaper vendor (the director himself in an amazing performance) jealously vies with a railway porter for the affections of a sexy beauty selling lemonade at the station.
CAIRO AS SEEN BY CHAHINE
1991, Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 23 min.
CAIRO AS SEEN BY CHAHINE. The director pulls no punches in this personal and frankly realistic city portrait. Both in Arabic with English subtitles and in 35mm. (BS)
Sunday, January 25, 3:00 pm
Monday, January 26, 8:00 pm
Thursday, January 29, 6:00 pm
ALEXANDRIA, AGAIN AND FOREVER
(ISKANDRIJA, KAMAN OUE KAMAN)
1990, Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 100 min.
With Youssef Chahine, Hussein Fahmy
“Filmed in sumptuous color, this is not only one of the most passionate celebrations of bisexuality ever filmed, it’s also one of the funniest.”--Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
In this third of Chahine’s four autobiographical films, the director himself plays his alter-ego character Yehia Mourad. Now an award-winning middle-aged film director with a crush on his handsome leading man, bisexual Mourad becomes distracted by a parallel attraction to the beautiful would-be starlet he casts in his next production. Once again, Chahine playfully interjects song-and-dance numbers, far-flung fantasy, newsreels, and slapstick for a marvelously eclectic brand of storytelling that was his alone. In Arabic with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)