Youssef Chahine: A Political Filmmaker

1. Introduction

Youssef Chahine is one of the most renowned Egyptian filmmakers. He is known for his politically and socially committed films. His works often criticize the political situation in the Arab world, as well as in Egypt.

Chahine was born in Alexandria in 1926 into a Christian family. From an early age, he was interested in cinema and theatre. In 1945, he went to Hollywood to study filmmaking at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. After his return to Egypt, he worked as an assistant director on several Egyptian films. His first feature film, Cairo Station (1958), was a critical and commercial success.

Since then, Chahine has directed over 40 films. His works have been screened at many international film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Locarno. He has won several awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1998.

In this paper, I will discuss the works of Youssef Chahine. I will start with a brief overview of his career, followed by a discussion of his major works from different periods. I will conclude with a brief summary of his achievements.

2. Cinema of Youssef Chahine

Youssef Chahine’s films can be divided into five main periods: the pre-independence era (1958-1962), the Six-Day War and its aftermath (1967-1969), the Algerian Civil War (1970-1972), the avant-garde period (1973-1977), and the post-Nasserist era (1978-present).

2. 1 The Pre-Independence Era

Chahine’s first film, Cairo Station (1958), is set in Cairo’s main train station. It tells the story of a love triangle between a disabled newsstand vendor (Hussein), his young female assistant (Hanouma) and a married woman (Nebma). The film was a critical and commercial success, and launched Chahine’s career as a director.

Chahine’s second film, The Following Year (1959), is set in Alexandria during the 1950s. It tells the story of two friends, Ateya and Hussein, who are struggling to make ends meet. The film was not as successful as Cairo Station, but it established Chahine as a talented director.

2. 2 The Six-Day War and its Aftermath

The Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt broke out in 1967. Chahine was living in Egypt at the time, and he was deeply affected by the events of the war. He made two films about the war: al-Ikhtiyar (The Choice, 1968) and al-Asfur (The Bird, 1969).

Al-Ikhtiyar is a documentary about the Six-Day War from an Egyptian perspective. It includes interviews with Egyptian soldiers who fought in the war, as well as footage of the destruction caused by the war. Al-Asfur is a fictional film about an Egyptian fighter pilot who is captured by Israel during the war.

2. 3 The Algerian Civil War

The Algerian Civil War broke out in 1970, after the Algerian independence from France. Chahine was living in Egypt at the time, and he was deeply affected by the events of the war. He made two films about the war: Cairo 30 (1970) and The Sixth Day (1972).

Cairo 30 is a documentary about the Algerian War from an Egyptian perspective. It includes interviews with Egyptian soldiers who fought in the war, as well as footage of the destruction caused by the war. The Sixth Day is a fictional film about an Algerian fighter pilot who is captured by Israel during the war.

2. 4 The Avant-Garde Works

In the early 1970s, Chahine began experimenting with avant-garde filmmaking techniques. He made three films in this period: Alexandria Why? (1977), An Egyptian Story (1982) and Adieu Bonaparte (1985).

Alexandria Why? is a semi-autobiographical film about a young man’s experience of growing up in Alexandria during the 1950s. An Egyptian Story is a fictional film about the love affair between an Egyptian man and a French woman during the Algerian War. Adieu Bonaparte is a historical drama about Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798.

2. 5 The Religious Films

In the late 1980s, Chahine began making films with religious themes. His first religious film, Jesus of Nazareth (1989), is a retelling of the life of Jesus Christ from a Muslim perspective. His second religious film, The Gospel According to Matthew (1991), is a retelling of the life of Jesus Christ from a Christian perspective. His third religious film, Mohamed, Messenger of God (1976), is a biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

2. 6 The Post-Nasserist Era

After the death of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, Chahine entered a new phase of his career, which is often referred to as the post-Nasserist era. In this period, Chahine made films that were critical of the Egyptian government, as well as films that explored social and cultural issues in Egypt.

Some of Chahine’s most notable films from this period include Alexandria Again and Again (1979), Cairo As Seen by Chahine (1981), Dunia (1984), Saladin (1986) and Alexandria New York (2004). In these films, Chahine explores themes such as love, loss, exile and nostalgia.

3. Conclusion

Youssef Chahine is one of the most renowned Egyptian filmmakers. He is known for his politically and socially committed films. His works often criticize the political situation in the Arab world, as well as in Egypt.

Chahine has directed over 40 films, which can be divided into five main periods: the pre-independence era (1958-1962), the Six-Day War and its aftermath (1967-1969), the Algerian Civil War (1970-1972), the avant-garde period (1973-1977) and the post-Nasserist era (1978-present).

FAQ

Chahine was inspired to become a filmmaker after watching an Italian film called "Cabiria" when he was just fourteen years old.

Some of Chahine's most famous films include " Cairo Station", "Alexandria Why?", "The Land", and "An Egyptian Story".

Chahine used his films to comment on Egyptian society and politics by tackling controversial subjects such as religion, class divisions, and sexuality.

Chahine's film-making style evolved over the course of his career from more traditional, realist narratives to more experimental, avant-garde films.

Themes and motifs that are recurrent in Chahine's work include the search for identity, the conflict between tradition and modernity, and the power of love and desire.

Critics have responded to Chahine's films over the years with both praise and criticism, but overall his body of work is highly respected within the film industry.

As one of Egypt's most renowned filmmakers, Chahine leaves behind a legacy of bold and innovative filmmaking that has had a profound impact on Arab cinema