For over half a century, Mr. Chahine made films that reflected the constantly evolving history of Egypt as he saw it through the viewfinder of his camera. It would be a gross understatement to say that Mr. Chahine was the voice of Egypt, because he was that, but he also produced work that reflected the very conscience of Egypt, the soul of the nation. He was also, Arab cinema's leading voice, and therefore, the greatest truth-teller of that part of the world.
Upon his death in 2008, UK's leading newspaper The Guardian wrote: 'So shooting wraps on one of the boldest careers in the movies. Youssef Chahine was the leading voice of the Arab cinema for over half a century – and as prolific, versatile and accomplished as many a more famous western auteur – but his abiding worth, inside Egypt and out, has been in his outspoken expression of the conscience of his country. He took on imperialism and fundamentalism alike, celebrated the liberty of body and soul, and offered himself warts and all as an emblem of his nation.'
Zizo and Lightcube Film Society collaborated to organise a brief retrospective of four titles from the vast filmography of the Egpytian modernist, with each film screened every successive Thursday, 7 PM.
CAIRO STATION / 1958 / 77 mins / January 28 / 7 PM
Kinawi, a physically challenged peddler who makes his living selling newspapers in the central Cairo train station, is obsessed by Hannouma, an attractive young woman who sells drinks. While she treats Kinawi in a sympathetic way and jokes with him about a possible relationship, She is actually in love with Abu Sri', a strong and respected porter at the station who is struggling to unionize his fellow workers to combat their boss' exploitative and abusive treatment.
THE RING SELLER / 1965/ 95 min / February 4 /7 PM
In a peaceful village, the mayor, seeing that the population is bored with tranquility, invents the mystical figure of Rajeh, and tells stories to villagers about the exploits of Rajeh, who kills and maims and steals. One day the mayor (Nasri Shamseddine) tells the villagers that Rajeh is heading to the village itself and they better be careful. Two smart men notice that the mayor was lying and that it is all his imagination. So they go on making good on the fictitious person and steal money and assault the mayor in the dark saying that they were Rajeh. Eventually, an old man with the name of Rajeh arrives in the village, amid public fears. Then it became obvious that Rajeh was merely a seller of rings for weddings and he wanted to marry his son to Fairuz the nephew of the mayor. The two bad guys willingly go to jail for making use of the mayor's joke.
THE SPARROW / 1972/ 105 min / February 11 / 7 PM
A vivid portrait of a nation in chaos, The Sparrow is set against the background of Egypt’s shocking defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel, a traumatic event that transformed Egyptians' confidence in Nasser into ambivalence towards a leader suddenly revealed to be deeply fallible. Eschewing traditional narrative in favor of an episodic ensemble piece focused on the hunt for a politically connected crime kingpin, The Sparrow'sheady combination of realist and expressionist elements is meant to disorient the viewer and evoke Chahine’s vision of a country suddenly gone far astray.
ALEXANDRIA...WHY? / 1978/ 113 min / February 18 / 7 PM
The film marked a radical, newly introspective turn in Chahine’s active career, a sharp departure from his Fifties musicals and melodramas and his later epics and political films. The first of Chahine's four film semi-autobiography, entitled “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Alexandria, Why? focuses on a precocious adolescent whose dreams and colorful attempts to become an actor unfold against the vivid backdrop of Alexandria during World War II. A rich ensemble cast inspires Chahine's young thespian hero with a wealth of dramatic subplots—at turns hilarious and touching—about wartime life. The autobiographical nature and nostalgic flavor of Alexandria, Why? make it one of Chahine’s most accessible works, a charming and entertaining film that also delivers a potently subversive and impassioned anti-war message.