Arts & Culture

Gems of Netflix: A Selection of Revived Youssef Chahine Films

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Gems of Netflix: A Selection of Revived Youssef Chahine Films

From left to right: Alexandria… Why?, The Land, An Egyptian Story

“Because we are men, and we took the stance of men,” goes the famous phrase from internationally acclaimed Egyptian film director Youssef Chahine’s film El Ard (The Land). As late Egyptian actor Mahmoud el Meligy delivers his powerful speech in a film about a simple Egyptian rural town being taken over by those in power, one can’t help but be put in awe by each and every aspect of the scene – from the moving performance, to the blocking and depth of each frame.  

El Ard (1969) is but one of 10 of the late director’s films that have been revived and made available on Netflix. In addition to this, films such as El Muhager (The Emigrant – 1994), Salah El Din (Saladin -1963), El Maseer (Destiny – 1997), Seraa Fil Wadi (The Blazing Sun – 1954), Seraa Fil Minaa (Dark Waters – 1956), Aawdeit el Ibn el Dal (Return of the Prodigal Son – 1976), and three out of his four part autobiographical film series – Iskindereya.. Leih? (Alexandria… Why? – 1978), Hadoota Masreya (An Egyptian Tale – 1982) and Iskindereya Kaman w Kaman (Alexandria Again and Forever – 1989) – can all be found on Netflix. 

Chahine was known for his innovative storytelling, as well as uniquely tying his personal life into some of his films. Driven by passion and a commitment to achieve greatness, one of Chahine’s very first films, Ibn el Nil (Son of the Nile – 1951) entered the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. 

Throughout his career, Chahine’s films have been both nominated and awarded at a number of prestigious film festivals around the world, including the Moscow International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and most notably the Cannes Film Festival.

In September 2018, independent art-house cinema venue Zawya took it upon themselves to revive a selection of some of Chahine’s most beloved and well-known films – over a year later and these vibrant and wonderfully revived films are now available on Netflix for audiences to enjoy from the comfort and safety of home. 

Below, Egyptian Streets takes a closer look at three of these revived gems, as each one tells a different story and shines a different light on the late director’s greatness and showcase what made him stand out amongst his peers. 

Al Ard: A Masterful Look into Power Dynamics

Still from ‘The Land’. Image credit unknown.

Al Ard is a wonderful film starring Hamdy Ahmed, Mahmoud el Meligy, Ezzat el Alaily and Nagwa Ibrahim, to name a few. The story takes place in a rural Egyptian farm town and offers an interesting portrayal of everyday rural life, various relationship dynamics, as well as the struggle between locals and authoritative powers that want to come and take over their land in order to build railway tracks. 

In addition to it being a complex and layered story, tastefully jumping from one relationship dynamic to the other, Chahine manages to also turn each frame of the film into an artwork of its own. Adding depth, layers and levels to most of the scenes, he also creates masterful composition in each frame that was rarely seen in Egyptian films of the time. 

The dynamic and moving storyline, which was genuinely and passionately performed, marries the imagery and artistry of each scene seamlessly, creating a truly unique film experience that will be sure to leave its mark. 

Iskindereya.. Leih?: A Glimpse Into the Life that Shaped Youssef Chahine

Still from ‘Alexandria… Why?’. Image credit unknown.

The first in a four part film series that depicts the life of Youssef Chahine, Iskindereya.. Leih? is both innovative and captivating. The film follows the life on a young man called Yehia (who portrays a younger Chahine), a student in Alexandria’s prestigious Victoria College who is obsessed with acting and dreams of going to Hollywood. 

The films stars Mohsen Mohie Eldin, Farid Shawky, Naglaa Fathi, Ahmed Zaki, Mahmoud el Meligy and others. Mohie Eldine (Yehia) gives a moving performance as he portrays a young man navigating life, family, school, friends and his dreams of Hollywood stardom. 

As well as giving audiences a glimpse into his personal life and young ambitious mind, Chahine also manages to weave in some political commentary of the time. He showcases daily life during Egypt’s British occupation around World War II, and how for some Egyptians, Germans entering Egypt seemed like a better option. 

Hadoota Masreya: An Illness Re-Imagined

Still from ‘An Egyptian Story’. Image credit unknown.

Starring Nour el Sherif, Yousra, Mohamed Mounir and others, Hadoota Masreya depicts Chahine around the time he had to have a heart operation in London. El Sherif portrays the character of Chahine as he reluctantly flies to London in order to have heart surgery following a heart attack on set.

In this film, Chahine personifies the operation and re-imagines what is happening inside his body in the form of a trial that his younger self holds, holding his older self accountable for his current illness. 

The film is a wonderfully theatrical experience that takes us through various phases of the director’s life, as he reflects on how everything he has been through and how the people around him have shaped him into the person he is on the operating table. 

Ultimately, each and every film takes us through a journey and offers audiences a unique cinematic experience. Unlike most Egyptian cinema, Chahine’s films challenge norms and fearlessly tackle various aspects of life, from social to political, all while offering us these stories from a refreshingly artistic perspective. 

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A believer in all things art. Loves writing, acting, theatre and pretending to know how to cook.

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