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In memory of Youssef Chahine, from Venice

The 65th Venice International Film Festival is dedicated to Youssef Chahine. In remembrance of the great film maker, his masterpiece Bab el hadid (Cairo Station, 1958) –which stars Chahine himself– will be shown at midnight in the Sala Grande on Sunday August 31st.

“He loved the cairote studio system, but chose instead to get the cinema of the Arab world off to a new start, leading it in a different direction and taking all the risks on his own shoulders – even moving over the other side of the camera in one of his most influential films, Bab el-hadid (1958), to play the character of an irreconcilable outcast (and sex maniac). He made the first scope-and-color film at the African continent and the Arab world, Salah ed-Din al-Nasr (1963), and continued to leave his own stylistic mark on a series of ever more spectacular works, as if huge production values and coproductions were never able to get in his way. When he embarked on his love affair with the musical (he was as fond of Ginger and Fred as he was of Asmahann and Oum Kulthum), the sublime Hind Rostom danced for him and the great Farid al-Atrash sang for him (followed by Fairuz, Mohammed Mounir, Magda el-Rumy...). For other singing stars (Leila Mourad, Dalida), he reserved exclusively dramatic roles. Working in the same way, with continual changes and leaps from one film genre to another, from “lowbrow” films to “highbrow” ones, he was able to mold or remold the image of leading lights of Egyptian cinema (the “discovery” of Omar Sharif and Ahmed Zaki; the consecration of Yousra and Leila Eloui). Thanks to his always extraordinary actors, he brought the reality of the poorer people of Cairo and the peasants of Upper Egypt to life on the screen, as well as reinventing Cleopatra and Averroes. He believed in Nasser and in the pan-Arab path to socialism, only to adjust and straighten his aim in his “critical” films from the Seventies onward. Running the risk of ending up in prison on more than one occasions, for his movies told the truth. “Even private life is not sacred,” he said, “starting with my own!”: between truth and cinematic dream, he progressively outlined an extraordinary filmautobiography – whether avowed (from Iskandereyah leh, 1976, to the other films of his “tetralogy”, the last of which came out in 2004) or not (the confession in Skoot hansawwar, 2001). For most of the last thirty years he had struggled with illness, coming close to death on at least two occasions, making each new film as if it were his last, as if he no longer had time to lose. He was one of the greats of the cinema. His name was Youssef Chahine. We embraced him last year, when he brought Heya fawda to Venice: we didn’t know it was going to be for the last time. Without him, the cinema of the ‘rest of the world’ is poorer. This 65th Festival is dedicated to him”.



Marco Müller

Director of the 65th Venice Film Festival

In memory of Youssef Chahine (1926-2008)


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