Tribute to Youssef Chahine at BAM
Egypt's prolific cinematic ambassador, who died last year at age 82, Youssef Chahine is remembered with an eight-film eulogy. Alternately praised and banned under King Farouk, Sadat, and Mubarak, Chahine was the most famous film chronicler of the pan-Arab world, with all the accolades and responsibility of being his country's unofficial spokesman on the festival circuit. He "did" the Crusades (Saladin), the Arab-Israeli War (The Sparrow), and Napoleon in Egypt (Adieu Bonaparte, starring Patrice Chéreau). Today, his films are scarcely seen in the U.S.—save a clumsy contribution to omnibus 11'09"01, whose defensiveness over fundamentalist violence belies Chahine's cosmopolitanism. (He was bisexual, from a Catholic family, weaned on American movies.) His neorealist-tinged breakthrough, 1958's Cairo Station, starred the director as a crippled train platform vendor. Alexandria . . . Why? (1978), the first installment in his autobiographical Alexandria quartet, introduces Chahine's alter ego, Yehia, a young man whose passion for MGM fantasia leads him on a pilgrimage from the German-threatened Egypt of 1942 to the Pasadena Playhouse. Never cautious in subject or form, Chahine's sprawl recalls Fellini at his most extroverted (and scattered), including an amateur theatrical reproduction of the Battle of El Alamein intercut with newsreel footage, and a razor's-edge affair between a British soldier and a homicidal Egyptian aristocrat.
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