|Jean Renoir once remarked that in the work of his Egyptian fellow film director Youssef Chahine, “reality is always enchanting”. Chahine, who has died at the age of 82 following a brain haemorrhage, made more than 40 feature films: his work increasingly explored a not uncritical nationalism, what it meant to be Egyptian, and the need for a tolerant and just society.||
|Although he was highly regarded by European directors and a favourite at international festivals, commercial distribution for his films in the west – France excepted – remained limited, and his later work was often subjected to threats from fundamentalists within the Islamic community .
Through the late 1970s and 80s he made an autobiographical trilogy that brought him his first wide international recognition: Iskindiria … Leh? (Alexandria … Why?, 1978); Haddouta Misriyya (An Egyptian Story, 1982); and Eskandarai Kaman We Kaman (Alexandria Again and Forever, 1989). Set in Alexandria in 1942, at a time when Egyptian nationalism was pitting itself against the occupying British and the thousands of troops sent there to battle against the Germans, Iskindiria … Leh? combines clips from Hollywood musicals and newsreel footage from the Imperial War Museum.
But this was the time of the Camp David agreement, and its plea for tolerance was regarded as supporting President Anwar Sadat in his visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and subsequent agreement with Israel of 1979, developments highly unpopular in the rest of the Arab world. Despite being approved by Palestinian organisations, the film was banned in many Arab countries, though won a special jury prize at the Berlin film festival.
Youssef Chahine – Egyptian film-maker who championed nationalism and Arab concerns with an independent eye