Youssef Chahine (photo, from lepoint.fr), 82, Egyptian film director and one of Arab cinema’s most admired figures, has died in Cairo, four weeks after suffering a brain haemorrhage.
In 1950, he made his first film, in which he tackled authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in his work. He also had a loyal following in france, and in 1997 he received the lifetime achievement award at Cannes.
“A fervent defender of freedom of expression”, is what French president Nicolas Sarkozy called Mr Chahine.
After flying to Paris for treatment following his haemorrhage, 10 days ago Mr Chahine returned to Cairo.
This Is Chaos, his last film, was released earlier this year. Because of the director’s ill health, the film had to be finished by Khaled Youssef, a colleague.
“He was one of the most important film-makers in the world, not just in the Arab world”, Egyptian actor Nur al-Sherif told Agence France Presse.
During his career, Youssef Chahine attracted the anger of both religious and political forces in Egypt, talking about daring theme. For example, in one of his early films, Cairo: Central Station, he dealt with sexual morality.
Despite the nationalisation of the country’s film industry under President Nasser, Mr Chahine’s career survived, and in his film The Sparrow, he was critical of Egypt’s leadership at the time of the Six Day War in 1967.
In the 1940’s, Mr Chahine had studied in California, and during his entire career he carried on producing work critical of Egypt’s leaders, and made a series of films centred on his home city of Alexandria, recounting his childhood, his love of early Hollywood and his ambiguous feelings towards the United States.
Censorship became a theme close to his heart in his later career, and he also became a prominent opponent of American foreign policy in the Middle East.
In 1994, The Emigrant, was banned by a court, because its plot was based on the story of Joseph, found in the Bible and Koran and that the depiction of prophets is banned in most interpretations of Islam.
“Every day human beings suffer a lot from people telling you to shut up, you have no right to talk, you have no right to discuss”, Mr Chahine said.
“I think this is extreme violence, and it happened to me.”
On Monday, a funeral ceremony will be held in Cairo, ahead of his burial in Alexandria. Youssef Chahine is survived by Colette, his French wife.