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Youssef Chahine (Arabic: يوسف شاهين) (January 25, 1926 in Alexandriamarker, Egyptmarker –July 27, 2008 in Cairomarker, Egyptmarker) was an Egyptian film director active in the Egyptian film industry since 1950. He was credited with launching the career of actor Omar Sharif. A critically acclaimed director frequently seen in film festivals during decades, Chahine also had his reach to wider international filmgoers' audiences as one of the co-directors of 11'9"01 September 11.

Early life

Chahine was born on Jan. 25, 1926, in Alexandriamarker, Egyptmarker to an Greek-Egyptian mother and a Catholic father whose family had immigrated from Lebanonmarker to Egypt in the 19th Century. Youssef Chahine was not a believer in organized religion and it was stated that, if asked of his religion, he would reply: Egyptian.

Fascinated by the performing arts from an early age, young Chahine began to create shows at home for his family. Chahine began his education at a Frères' school Collège Saint Marc. Growing up, he attended Alexandria's elite Victoria College. In 1946, Chahine convinced his parents to let him travel to Hollywood to study acting, where he attended the Pasadena Playhousemarker outside of Los Angeles, California.

Starting as a director

After returning to Egyptmarker, he turned his attention to directing. Cinematographer Alvise Orfanelli helped Chahine into the film business. Chahine directed his first feature film in 1950, Baba Amin (Daddy Amin) at the age of 23, two years before the revolution of 1952 that saw the overthrow of the monarchy and the rise of the charismatic leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. One year later, with Nile Boy (1951) he was first invited to the Cannes Film Festivalmarker. Sira’ fi-l-Wadi (The Blazing Sun, 1954) introduced Omar Sharif to the cinematic screen. In 1970 he was awarded a Golden Tanit at the Carthage Film Festival for al-Ikhtiyar (The Choice). With The Sparrow (1973), in which he showed his political opinions after the Six Day War with Israelmarker, he directed the first Egyptmarker-Algeriamarker co-production.

He won a Silver Bear in Berlin for Alexandria...Why? (1978), the first installment in what would prove to be an autobiographic quartet, completed with An Egyptian Story (1982), Alexandria, Again and Again (1990), and Alexandria...New York (2004). The producer Humbert Balsan went to Cannes in 2004 with Alexandria... New York, his ninth film with the Egyptian director since 1985's Adieu, Bonaparte. In one of his films The Sixth Day اليوم السادس, an adaptation of a novel written in French by Lebanese writer André Chedid, the famous Egyptian singer Dalida was the protagonist in the role of a poor Egyptian woman.

About his work, Chahine has said, "I make my films first for myself. Then for my family. Then for Alexandria. Then for Egypt," Chahine once famously said. "If the Arab world likes them, ahlan wa sahlan (welcome). If the foreign audience likes them, they are doubly welcome."


Chahine’s early films in Egypt included Raging Sky (1953), begun while Farouk was still King and dealing with a peasant farmer’s challenge to a feudal landlord. But the first truly indicative film of his style and preoccupations was Cairo Central Station (Bab al-Hadid), in 1958.

Chahine himself plays the central character, Kenaoui, a simple-minded man, beneficently employed as a newspaper-seller. He cuts pictures of women from magazines for the station hut he lives in, but a living focus of his sexual frustrations is Hanouma (played by the popular actress Hind Rostom), who sells lemonade and is engaged to Abou Serib (Farid Chawqi), porter and trade union organiser. With unthinking but affectionate playfulness Hanouma exacerbates Kenaoui’s frustration and adds to his confusion which leads to death. Egyptian audiences, used to simpler melodramas, were disturbed and rejected the film. It was not seen again for some 20 years.

In 1963 Chahine made Saladin (original title: El Nasser - defender/deliverer - Salah ed-Dine), an epic, three-hour film in CinemaScope named after the 12th Century Sultan who, as the film begins, is preparing to liberate Jerusalem from its Christian Crusader occupiers. It was scripted by Naguib Mahfouz and the poet and progressive writer, Abderrahman Cherkaoui, and a parallel between Saladin and President Nasser is easily drawn. Saladin is shown as an educated and peaceable man - at one point he is asked to give clandestine medical help to Richard (the Lion Heart), shot by an arrow, and later he tells him: "Religion is God’s and the Earth is for all ... I guarantee to all Christians in Jerusalem the same rights as are enjoyed by Muslims."

A novel by Cherkaoui, serialised in 1952, formed the basis of The Earth (1968), noted particularly for its image of the peasant farmer - "eternal ‘damned of the earth’" - which broke with "the ridiculous image the cinema had (hitherto) given him" (Khaled Osman). There followed a further collaboration with Mahfouz on The Choice (1970), ostensibly a murder investigation story involving twin brothers, but with the underlying theme of intellectual schizophrenia. In 1976 he made The Return Of The Prodigal Son, a "musical tragedy", but four years earlier had made one of his greatest films, The Sparrow (1972), both co-productions with Algeria. A journalist and a young police officer meet while investigating incidents of corruption. They and other people of the left pass through Bahiyya’s house, whose name represents the idea of the mother country and is invoked in Cheikh Imam’s song at the end of the film. After Nasser’s announcement of the defeat in the war and his subsequent resignation, Bahiyya runs into the street, followed by a growing crowd, shouting "No! we must fight. We won’t accept defeat!"

In Alexandria, Why? (1978), Yehia, a young Victoria College student, is obsessed with Hollywod and dreams of making cinema. It is 1942, the Germans are about to enter Alexandria, thought preferable to the presence of the British. In An Egyptian Story (1982), as a result of a heart operation, he reviews his life: moments of Chahine’s own films are replayed against their autobiographical and social historical context. Memory is very important to Chahine’s most recent work —whether of the "city of my childhood, Alexandria, between the two world wars tolerant, secular, open to Muslims, Christians and Jews" or of a more distant past: such as evoked in Adieu Bonaparte (1985), based on the cultural aspect of Bonaparte’s expedition into Egypt (1798). "Out of this marvellous confrontation there was a rebirth of Egyptian consciousness, of its past ... which belongs to humanity."

In 1992 Jacques Lassalle approached him to stage a piece of his choice for Comédie-Françaisemarker: Chahine chose to adapt Albert Camus' Caligula, which proved hugely successful. The same year he started writing The Emigrant (1994), a story inspired by the Biblical character of Joseph, son of Jacob.

This had long been a dream-project and he finally got to shoot it in 1994. This film created a controversy in Egyptmarker between the enlightened wing and the fundamentalists who opposed the depiction of religious characters in films. In 1997, 46 years and 5 invitations later, his work was acknowledged at the Cannes Film Festival with a lifetime achievement award on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the festival. He is also credited with discovering Omar Sharif, whose first starring role was in Chahine's film The Blazing Sun (1954). He also provided Hind Rostom with a very early role as a murder victim in Bab al-Hadid (Cairo Station).


Chahine was awarded the 50th annual lifetime achievement award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.


  • The Sparrow attacks Egyptian corruption and blamed it for the defeat in the Six Day War.
  • Cairo Station, albeit a classic of Egyptian cinema, also shocked viewers both by the sympathy with which a "fallen woman" is depicted and by the violence with which she's killed.
  • During the several following years Chahine found himself increasingly in conflict with the government-backed film industry of Egypt and its heavy political restrictions in filmmaking. In 1964 he voluntarily went into exile to Lebanon, where he shot two musicals: Bayya al-Khawatim (1965, Ring Seller ) and Rim al-Dhahab (1967, Sands of Gold ). Ring Seller became one of the best musicals of Arab cinema, bringing success to Youssef Chahine, whereas Sands of Gold , due to delays in shooting and its box-office failure, forced him to quite his work in Lebanon and return to Egypt.

Gay-Bisexual themes in his work

Chahine frequently included gay or bisexual themes in his work. Alexandria...Why? tells the story of two young men—one Egyptian, the other European—who fall in love during World War II. Yehia’s cousin is gay and ‘buys’ drunken British soldiers. Jewish friends are forced to leave and decide to settle in Palestine. In An Egyptian Story (1982) Yehia is a flim-maker, going to London (as Chahine had earlier) for open-heart surgery. He has a brief affair with a taxi driver.

Illness and death

Chahine was hospitalized at El Shorouq hospital in Cairomarker in a coma following an apparent cerebral haemorrhage, on Sunday, June 15, 2008.

On Monday, June 16, 2008, Chahine was flown to Parismarker on an emergency flight and admitted to the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, west of Paris, where his niece told AFP his condition was "critical but stable."

Youssef Chahine died in his Cairo home on Sunday July 27, 2008.

He was honoured by BAFTA for his contribution to film.


  • Baba Amin (Papa Amin) - 1950 بابا أمين
  • Ibn al-Nil (Nile Boy) - 1951 ابن النيل
  • El Mohareg el Kebyr (The Great Clown) - 1952 المهرج الكبير
  • Saydat al Ketaar (Lady on the Train) - 1953 سيدة القطار
  • Nisaa bila Regal (Women without Men) - نساء بلا رجال 1953
  • Sira` Fi al-Wadi (Struggle in the Valley) also known as (The Blazing Sun) - 1954 صراع فى الوادي
  • Shaitan al Sahraa (The Desert Devil) - 1954 شيطان الصحراء
  • Sira` fi el-Minaa (Dark Waters, Struggle in the Port) - 1956 صراع فى الميناء
  • Wadda'tu Hobbaka (Farewell to Your Love) - 1957 ودعت حبك
  • Enta Habiby (You're My Love) also known as (My One and Only Love) - 1957 إنت حبيبى
  • Bab al-Hadid (Cairo Station or Cairo Main Station) - 1958 باب الحديد
  • Djamila Bouhired also known as (Jamila, the Algerian) - 1958 جميلة بوحريد
  • Hobb lel Abad (Love, Forever) also known as (Forever Yours) - 1959 حب إلى الأبد
  • Bein Edeik (In Your Hands) - 1960 بين ايديك
  • Nidaa al Oushaak (A Lover's Call) - 1960 نداء العشاق
  • Rajul fe Haiaty (A Man in My Life) - 1961 رجل في حياتي
  • Al Nasser Salah Ad-Din (The Victorious Saladin) - 1963 الناصر صلاح الدين
  • Fagr Youm Gedeed (Dawn of a New Day) - 1964 فجر يوم جديد
  • 'Biyaa El Khawatem'" (The Ring Salesman) also known as (Auliban, the Seller of Jokes), starring Lebanese legend Fairuz, produced in 1965 (based on the musical of 1964) بياع الخواتم
  • Rimal min Thahab (Golden Sands) - 1966 رمال من ذهب
  • Eid al Mairun (The Feast of Mairun) -short film- عيد الميرون 1967
  • Al Nas wal Nil (Those People of the Nile) - 1968 الناس والنيل
  • Al-Ard (The Land) - 1969 الأرض
  • Al-Ekhtyiar (The Choice) - الإختيار 1970
  • Salwa al Fatah al Saghira allaty Tokalem el Abkar (Salwa the Little Girl who Talks to Cows) also known as (Salwa) -short film- 1972 سلوى الفتاة الصغيرة التى تكلم الأبقار
  • El Asfur (The Sparrow) - 1973 العصفور
  • Intilak (Forward We Go) -documentary- 1973 انطلاق
  • Awdet el Ebn el Dal (Return of The Prodigal Son) - 1976 عودة الإبن الضال
  • Iskandariyah... lih? (Alexandria... Why?) - 1978 إسكندرية... ليه؟
  • Hadduta Misriyah (An Egyptian Tale) - 1982 حدوتة مصرية
  • Wadaan Bonabart (Adieu Bonaparte) - 1985 وداعا بونابرت
  • Al-Yawm al-Sadis (The Sixth Day) - 1986 اليوم السادس
  • Iskandariyah Kaman wa Kaman (Alexandria Again and Again) - 1989 إسكندرية كمان وكمان
  • El Kahera Menawara be Ahlaha (Cairo as Told by Chahin) -documentary TV- 1991 القاهرة منورة بأهلها
  • Al-Mohagir (The Emigrant) - 1994 المهاجر
  • Al-Massir (The Destiny) - 1997 المصير
  • Kolaha Khatwa (It's Only a Step) -short film- 1998 كلها خطوة
  • Al-Akhar (The Other) - 1999 الآخر
  • Sokoot Hansawwar (Silence, We're Rolling) - 2001 سكوت ح نصور
  • September, 11th also known as 11'09"01 Eleven Minutes, Nine Seconds, One Image - 2002 11, سبتمبر
  • Iskandariyah-New York (Alexandria-New York) - 2004 إسكندرية-نيويورك
  • Heya Fawda..? (Is This Chaos..?) - 2007 هي فوضى..؟ (premiere at the Venice Film Festival)

In the Press

The best of Egyptian cinema , the best 15 best Egyptian films of all time

See also


  1. Encyclopedia Britannica: Chahine, (Gabriel) Youssef, Egyptian filmmaker
  2. Al-Ahram Weekly Newspaper Article. Issue#908. 2008-07-31
  3. BBC Arabic 2008-07-28
  4. Almustaqbal Newspaper Issue#792 2006-12-31
  6. Middle East Broadcasting Corporation. Article by Tarek El-Shennawy. 2009-07-27
  7. Elaph Newspaper Article by Adnan Hussein. Issue# 3007. 2008-06-18.
  10. Harvard Film Archive: Youssef Chahine, the Cosmopolite of Egyptian Cinema

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