An Egyptian Story

Director: Youssef Chahine
Year: 1982
Rating: 6.5
Country: Egypt

Some 24 years after Youssef Chahine directed his classic film Cairo Station he turns in this all-together different film in style, story and ambition. Chahine is considered to be Egypt's greatest director starting in the 1950's up to his death in 2008. Film was his life. His obsession. He made them in the Golden Age of Egyptian film through all the political turmoil and censorship that occurred in the 1960's and beyond. His films could look hard and critical at conditions of the the poor and neglected in society as in Cairo Station or The Land - or he could go big with films such as Jamila, the Algerian about fighting the French or his 1963 film Saladin the Victorious. Many of his films had political elements which was not too popular with the government as he had to fight the censors constantly.

In this autobiographical film - that is a follow-up to Alexandria . . . Why (1979), Chahine delves into much of this. This is framed in a unique manner that perhaps was inspired by All That Jazz. Yehia (the stand-in for Chahine) is directing a film (that we later find out has been forbidden by the censors) when he has a mild heart attack and he goes to London for a by-pass operation. While the operation is underway he imagines that his life is being judged in a court room and episodes from his past are shown as evidence. Some of it is surreal, some of it is confusing but it builds up the character of this man - and much of it is not positive. Chahine is not going easy on himself here.

It begins with him as a young man involved in the protests against the British, his entry into film and Cairo Station, his desire for recognition from the West that never really comes, being in Algeria during their fight against the French - but primarily it is an indictment against his selfish obsession with film, with his career to the detriment of his wife and children who feel abandoned by him. He fights for his life by defending himself and in the end he is judged. It is a strange little film - very personal - not necessarily involving but the acting is absolutely terrific - Nour El-Sherif as Yehia is great as are all the other supporting actors.