More celebrated abroad than in his own country, Youssef Chahine tried every film genre, from historical epic to musical comedy. The Egyptian director, who died on Sunday, 27 July 2008 in Cairo, received the lifetime achievement award on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.
His last film Chaos, released in 2007, criticizes the Egyptian autocracy, its plot unfolding in the working-class district of Shoubra in Cairo. Hatem, a corrupt policeman, is an embodiment of the drift of a country plagued by corruption at all levels. He rules the district with shrewd craftiness. Only Nour, a young woman he covets, dares to stand up.
In 2002, Chahine participated in a collective film about 11 September 2001, September 11. Very critical of US policy, he said: “I learned my craft in America, where I had my first experiences of love. But I feel betrayed by the foreign policy of a country that was my best lover, my mistress.”
Silence . . . on tourne [Silence, We’re Rolling], a dramatic comedy released in 2001, tells the story of Malak, a rich singer, who falls under the spell of a young arriviste. In this film, Chahine gives an important place to music, the pillar of Egyptian cinema.
In 1998, The Other, an eminently political film, denounced the new world order and unbridled globalization through the love story of a woman journalist and a young scion of an elite family.
In one of his major films Destiny, first shown in theaters in 1997, Chahine drew on the work of Arab philosopher Averroes to condemn intolerance and religious fanaticism.
One of Chahine’s first films Cairo: Central Station (1958), like several of his works from that period, is a social panorama of the Egypt of the 50s and 60s.
The original article in French appeared in Le Monde on 27 July 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).