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Celebrated Egyptian Filmmaker Chahine dies

Latest update : 2008-07-28

After spending several weeks in a coma, Arab cinema's best known director Youssef Chahine died in Cairo, Sunday, at the age of 82. He had a controversial career spanning 50 years, often speaking for those "afraid to protest".


The most famous of all Egyptian filmmakers, Youssef Chahine has died. He was 82-years-old.

On June 16th, while in a deep coma, he was transferred from Egypt to the American hospital of Paris in the suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, following a cerebral haemorrhage.


Chahine was a sacred giant of world cinema and an emblematic figure of the Arab world. During his long and contentious career he directed some 40 films, many of which incited criticism and controversy. His body of work was both intimate and politically engaged.


At the time of the announcement of his transfer to the Paris hospital, Walid Chmait, Lebanese film critic and friend of the director, said of his long-time friend, “I loved and admired Youssef Chahine the filmmaker, the innovator from whom I learned very much.” For Chmait, the cinematic path of Chahine was immensely rich. “His films addressed all the subjects affecting the man on the Arab street.”


Youssef Chahine cleverly combined his innovative and artistic spirit with an astute social and political conscience. As politically engaged filmmaker, he was also made famous by his opposition to Islamic fundamentalists and in particular to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. He was openly critical of what he called "the relentlessness of the press in the West”, which he believed contributed to anti-Arab sentiments. He consistently denounced violence, political extremism and rose up against state censorship, like the kind practiced in Arab society.

In his film “The Emigrant” (1994), inspired by the life of the prophet Joseph, he praised tolerance, in the face of death threats and the justice system.


Throughout his film career he has battled against the feudal system of the bourgeoisie. He also denounced the exploitation of Egyptian peasants in such films as “Son of the Nile” (1951) and “The Land” (1969).


Youssef Chahine was born in 1926 in Alexandria to a middle-class Christian family. He was educated in French and English. After studying the US, he returned to Egypt and entered the film scene with the help of Alvise Orfanelli, a cinema pioneer. It was with the latter’s support that Chahine made his first film, “Papa Amine,” at the age of 23.


His best known works are “The Destiny” (1997), in which Chahine denounced religious fundamentalism as well as “Alexandra, why?” (1978), the first part of a trilogy, or his historic retelling “Farewell Bonaparte” (1985).


In “Djamila the Algerian,” about the resistance of Djamila Bouhired, Chahine illustrated the Arab-Algerian solidarity during the war against the French.


His made his final film “Chaos” in 2007, when he was over 80 years old. In this indictment of Egyptian society, he talks of the police treatment of the crowded neighbourhood of Choubra in Cairo.


His rich body of work is well-known not just in Egypt but also throughout the world. In 1970, the Festival of Carthage in Tunisia awarded him the Grand Prix for his lifetime achievement.  Cannes paid homage to him in 1997, during the festival’s 50th anniversary. In 2006 he was asked to join the legion of honour in France.







Date created : 2008-07-27