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EGYPT: Legendary director is gone

July 30, 2008 |  8:49 am

ChahineWearing no make-up or fancy costumes, Egypt's top actors and actresses gathered this week in a Cairo church to bid farewell to director Youssef Chahine, one of the nation's most internationally remarkable moviemakers.

Chahine, 82, passed away earlier this week after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He was flown to Paris to undergo surgery in mid-July and then transferred back to a Cairo hospital, where he remained in a coma until his death.

Draped with the Egyptian flag, his coffin made its journey from Cairo to the tomb of Chahine's family in Alexandria on Monday. 

In a career that lasted more than five decades, Chahine directed more than 30 movies that drew on different schools of thought. He earned several international prizes, including the lifetime achievement award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.

"Chahine is considered one of the greatest filmmakers in Egypt, the Arab world and the entire world," wrote prominent Egyptian critic Samir Farid in El-Masry El-Youm daily. "He is the one who put Egyptian movies on the map of the international cinema since 1970. Each of his movies was more of a cultural event that provoked a fertile stir on all levels."

Though his regime was a frequent target of Chahine's cinema, President Hosni Mubarak paid tribute to the deceased in an official statement where he said: "The art of Chahine will live on through his students." Chahine was paid another tribute by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who praised him as “a fervent defender of freedom of expression and of individual and collective liberty generally."

"Chaos" was Chahine's last movie, co-directed with his protege Khaled Youssef, in which he leveled a biting criticism of the corruption of Egypt's interior ministry. Despite his worldwide fame, Chahine's movies are dismissed by wide sectors of Egyptian viewers as too obscure and impossible to comprehend.

"Even if the masses don’t comprehend his works and accuse him sometimes of deviation and alienation or of insanity most of the time, Youssef Chahine will remain a unique director whose works deserve academic studies rather than just a few articles that appear in the media," wrote columnist Azza Heikal in the independent daily Nahdet Misr.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: AFP