It is not that common to encounter films from Egypt in the U.S. and only a handful have managed to enjoy theatrical distribution here in either film festival or art house screenings over the years. Youssef Chahine from Alexandria, Egypt is probably the best known director with more than 40 feature films to his credit including The Blazing Sun (1954) featuring Omar Sharif in his film debut and Bab el Hadid (Cairo Station, 1958), which brought him international attention. Other than Chahine, you might recognize Moshi Mizrahi although his best-known films were made in other countries; The House on Chelouche Street (1973), an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film was made in Israel, and Madame Rosa (1977) and I Sent a Letter to My Love (1980), both starring Simone Signoret, were filmed in France. A more contemporary Egyptian director is Atom Egoyan, although he was raised in Western Canada where most of his movies have been made including Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997).
Many film historians and critics, however, often list Chadi Abdel Salam as one of the greatest Egyptian directors of all time on the basis of his solo feature film from 1969, Al-mummia (The Mummy aka The Night of Counting the Years), which has slowly acquired the status of a classic in its own country and around the world, thanks to the efforts of Martin Scorsese and The Film Foundation, which restored the film in 2009 in association with the Cineteca di Bologna and the Egyptian Film Center.
Omar Sharif stars in Dark Waters (1956) as a sailor who has been away at sea for 3 years and comes home to find his world has changed in this melodrama directed by Youssef Chahine.
Long before Omar Sharif was discovered and made internationally famous by director David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, he was already a major star and matinee idol in his native country of Egypt. The director who truly deserves the credit for launching Sharif’s career is Youssef Chahine, easily the most famous and renowned Egyptian filmmaker of all time. Chahine discovered Sharif on a street in Alexandria, cast him as the lead in his sixth feature film, The Blazing Sun aka Struggle in the Valley (Siraa Fil-Wadi, 1954), and changed his name from Michel Chalhoub to Omar Cherif. Cast opposite Fetah Hamamah, one of Egypt’s reigning film actresses since the early 1940s, Cherif quickly established himself as a major star and female heartthrob. More importantly, he fell in love with Hamamah and they married in 1954, going on to make several movies together and becoming Egypt’s most popular romantic screen team. Continue reading →