CAIRO: Egyptian film director Youssef Chahine, Arab cinema’s most acclaimed filmmaker, passed away on Sunday, at age 82, following several weeks in a coma.
Chahine passed on at 3:30 am in Maadi’s Armed Forces Hospital.
Waleed Abol Seoud, spokesperson for Chahine’s production company Alfam Misr El Alameya, denied rumors that Chahine has been clinically dead since his return from Paris on July 17.
Chahine was flown last month to France after suffering a brain haemorrhage. A funeral ceremony will be held today at the Roman Catholic Church in Daher, Cairo, at 1 pm. Chahine will be buried at the family crypt in Alexandria, his hometown.
Known for his distinguished filmmaking style and eclectic body of work, Chahine was widely regarded as one of the world’s most prominent directors. For more than three decades, he captured the reality of Egyptian society in his films, while expounding various philosophical and personal themes.
Born in 1926, the son of a Syrian lawyer and a strong Wafd party member, Chahine was educated at the prestigious Victoria College and studied cinema at the Pasadena Playhouse near Los Angeles.
Chahine made his directorial debut at 24 with “Baba Amin (Father Amin) in 1950. “Amin was released at a time when Egyptian cinema was starting to expand, and his first few films were made under numerous commercial confinements.
The cultural changes instigated by the 1952 revolution allowed Chahine to break away from mainstream cinema. His international breakthrough came in 1958 with “Bab El-Hadid (Cairo Station).
Widely regarded as one of the greatest accomplishments in Egyptian film history, the gritty social drama chronicles the psychological breakdown of an alienated, impoverished and sexually repressed newspaper vendor. “Cairo Station was one of the first local films to explore the struggle of Egyptian individualism against society and the contradictory relationship that governs their interactions.
The film was nominated for the Golden Bear Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
In 1963, Chahine released “Saladin, a historical epic about religious tolerance and Arab unity. The film was also a subtle declaration of Chahine’s commitment and support to Nasser and the revolution. Chahine continued to explore those themes in his next two films “Fagr Yom Gedid (Dawn of a New Day, 1964) and “Al Nass wal Nil (People and the Nile, 1968).
The 1967 defeat forced Chahine to defy the system and question Nasser’s regime. “Al-Ard (The Land), a tragic masterpiece of the crushed peasant unity against Nasser’s land policies, was released in 1969, earning him his third of five Golden Palm nominations at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Al-Ikhtiyar (The Choice, 1970) captured of the confusion of Egyptian intellectuals after the 1967 defeat, while 1972’s “Al-Asfour (The Sparrow) was a direct attack on the corruption of Nasser’s regime that also championed the heroism of ordinary Egyptians. Because of its highly controversial tone, “The Sparrow was banned for two years by the Sadat regime.
By the end of the 70s, Chahine started to create more introspective films with “Iskinderiya…Lih (Alexandria…Why?), the first of his four-part autobiography for which he won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1978.
By the mid-80s, Chahine began experimenting with both narrative and visuals, dwelling into the realms of fantasy and surrealism, influenced by Italian maverick Federico Fellini.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Chahine was the first Egyptian filmmaker to depict homosexual characters on screen in “Alexandria…Why? His semi-biblical adaptation of the story of Joseph, “El Mohager (The Immigrant, 1994) was marred by a series of lawsuits from Muslim and Christian lawyers. It was banned temporarily.
Chahine was also a member of the political opposition group Kefaya and a critic of President Hosni Mubarak.
Last year, Chahine scored his biggest commercial hit at home with “Heya Fawda (Is it Chaos?), a fierce indictment of police corruption and the government’s curb of democracy. The film, released shortly following heavy media coverage of police torture cases, contained confrontational scenes depicting a police officer sadistically torturing his detainees.
In 1994, Chahine was granted the lifetime achievement award from Cannes, making him the only Arab filmmaker to win this honor.
Chahine is survived by his French wife Colette. He had no children.