Egyptian Cinema; A Report by Viola Shafik

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Egyptian Cinema

Viola Shafik

From Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film
© 2001, Routledge


In Egypt the film industry lives like Hollywood on the creation of stars who exercise a quasi-mythical attraction. The Egyptian star system is organized pyramidically. A dozen highly popular and well-paid actors and actresses are positioned on top of scores of second- and third-rate performers. Today top stars hold a very powerful position in the film industry's economy, not only because the audience usually identifies films through the names of the stars and not directors, but also because of the production-loan system which depends essentially on a star's participation. As distributors turn out to be reluctant to finance a film which does not feature a known star, the whole star system suffers from constant stagnation. Meanwhile aged stars have to perform parts of much younger characters and younger actors age until they attain main parts. Moreover, stars interfere in the process of screenwriting in order to adapt narratives to their favourite persona and / or exclude stories which do not fit their age, like those centred around adolescents, for example. In addition, star wages are enormous in comparison to the total film budget. The average expenses for an Egyptian feature film are currently around £E1 million (about US$300,000). Up to 50 per cent may have to be spent on star wages (in a few particular cases even more), which means that little remains for props, set, costumes, transport and crew wages.

The first movie stars were taken from other branches of entertainment, either theatre or music. Some of them actively contributed to the formation of early Egyptian genres - for example, the popular comedians Nagib al-Rihani and ' Ali al-Kassar , who decisively influenced comedy and film farce during the 1930s and 1940s. Each of them developed a specific persona, ranging from ethnic to social stereotypes -such as the average working-class little man and the naïve Nubian. The same applies to ' Abd al-Salam Nabulsi , representing the capricious aristocrat, Bishara Wakim the funny Lebanese and Mary Munib the terrorizing mother-in-law. They were substituted during the 1950s by the clumsy and ignorant gorilla-like Ima'il Yasin , the hot--tempered and sometimes vicious cross-eyed ' Abd al-Fatah al-Qusairi and the Karagöz Shukuku (an Egyptian Mr Punch), among others. During the 1960s and 1970s a more burlesque and silly performance style prevailed, presented by Muhammad Rida , the couple Shuwikar and Fu'ad al-Muhandis , and the Thulathi adwa' al-masrah (Theatre Lights Trio), comprising of George Sidhum, Samir Ghanim and Ahmad al-Daif . During the late 1970s ' Adil Imam , a theatre actor like most of the other comedians; introduced the nihilist young urban underdog. Denounced as trival, he remained the best-paid Egyptian star actor until the mid-1990s. His position is currently challenged by a younger sucessor, Muhammad Hinidi, in his role as the harmless, funny and pragmatic character. It is noteworthy that the comedians who appeared since the late 1960s were far less strongly characterizd in terms of specific roles and masks.

In contrast to their male colleagues, comic actresses rarely made it to the top. Mary Munib, for example, appeared in the 1930s and was followed by Zinat Sidqi and Widad Hamdi during the 1950s and 1960s. They used to represent female dragons, fat and far from attractive. Either dominant or silly, they always played supporting roles. Leading parts in comedies were usually performed by actresses who also possessed a melodramatic or realist repertoire, like the singer Layla Murad in the 1940s, Fatin Hamama, Shadia, Sabah and Su'ad Husni between the 1950s and 1970s, and Layla Ilwi and Yusra in the following two decades.

The stars of the early Egyptian musical coincided with the major representatives of contemporary Arab-Egyptian music - first the Kawkab al-Sharq ('Star of the Orient') singer Umm Kulthum , as well as the congenial singer and composer Muhammad ' Abd al-Wahhab . They were mostly involved in melodramatic plots. Layla Murad appeared during the late 1930s and embodied often charming and innocent aristocratic girls. She replaced - together with Sabah, Shadia, Farid al-Atrash and Asmahan (who died as early as 1944) - the first generation of singers. Farid al-Atrash continued to star in film serials throughout the 1950s, at a time when new singers like Muhammad Fawzi and Huda Sultan appeared. Sabah (Lebanese like Farid al-Atrash ) performed mostly in light comedies during the 1950s and 1960s, as did Shadia, who was moreover a good-looking and talented actress.

The singer ' Abd al-Halim Hafiz was the idol of teenagers thoughout the 1960s and early 1970s, uniting an attractive appearance with musical and dramatic talents. He remained the last really adored music star of Egyptian cinema. His demise in 1977 and Umm Kulthum's death in 1975 terminated the golden era of the Egyptian musical. No remarkable singers appeared during the 1970s and 1980s. Commercially succesful, Ahmad 'Adawiyya (who starred in a few films during the 1980s) was considered vulgar and associated with the taste of the Gulf States. Eventually, during the 1990s, new singers and representatives of the new 'world music' - such as Muhammad Munir, 'Amr Diab and Muhammad Fu'ad - made their way onto the screen, largely performing young urban men aspiring for fame and a better life.

The most famous dancers of the Egyptian screen were Badi'a Masabni, Tahiyya Carioca, Samia Gamal and Na'ima 'Akif . During the 1940s and 1950s they elevated the belly dance to a respectable art form, whether on or off screen. Starting from the 1970s a general decline took place, however, with the appearance of Suhair Zaki, Nagwa Fu'ad and finally Fifi 'Abdu and Lucy, who gave belly dance an air of seduction and vulgarity that made it a complementary opposite to the new morality spreading in public. Some actresses -like Hind Rustum during the 1960s, Su'ad Husni during the 1970s, as well as Nabila 'Ubaid and Nadia al-Gindi throughout the 1980s and 1990s - who embodied at times the femme fatale persona, often performed the characters of belly dancers. A more positive film image had dancers who specialized in music hall, such as the little girl Fayruz (in the 1950s), her charming relative Nelly (since the 1970s) and more recently Sharihan .

Up to the 1960s the angels of the screen were Layla Murad, Layla Fawzi, Magda, Shadia, Camelia, Lubna 'Abd al-'Aziz, Mariam Fakhr al-Din and the megastar, Fatin Hamama . They starred in dozens of melodramas and their characters remained, particularly in Hamama's case, incorrigible even when they alienated spouses and spoiled other women's marriages. Stocky bourgeois-looking Mimi Shakib often played their vicious counterpart, mostly seducing others into immoral actions. In spite of the decline of classical melodrama since the late 1970s, endangered virtue remains an important theme to the present day, mostly represented by Ilham Shahin, Suhair Ramzi, Mervat Amin and Nagla' Fathi - the last two sometimes represented bourgeois or academic women as well. These actresses were often supported by Fardus Muhammad and Amina Rizq , playing less-attractive yet caring mothers and servants.

A subcategory of the virtuous girl developed to become the Arab Bedouin girl, mostly represented in Bedouin films and costume dramas - first by ' Aziza Arnir or Bahiga Hafiz and later by Koka - and characterized as outspoken, courageous, generous and righteous, similar to the bint al-balad (literally meaning 'girl of the country'). This character appeared first in realist films and can be summarized as a loyal and kind-hearted but clever woman from the popular neighbourhoods, who supports herself independently but resepects traditional morals. This role was convincingly introduced by the dancer Tahiyya Carioca during the 1950s. More contemporary actresses who have at times performed this type are Ma'ali Zayid, Layla 'Ilwi and ' Abla Kamil .

Characters representing passive and endangered virtue have remained popular to this day (currently enacted by Ilham Shahin, Athar al-Hakim, Layla 'Ilwi and Nagla' Fathi ), although they are now presented in a less melodramatic manner, instead appearing in the framework of social drama or gangster films. On the other hand, Berlanti 'Abd al-Hamid, Huda Sultan, Tahiyya Carioca and Hind Rustum (who starred between the 1940s and 1960s) and in particular Nadia al-Gindi (since the late 1970s) relied primarily on female charms and sex-appeal, expressed in dresses and manners, and were thus liable to by negatively characterized in the role of the vamp. Many actresses (like Nadia Lutfi, Su'ad Husni, Nabila 'Ubaid, Madiha Kamil and Yusra ) have been flexible enough, however, to represent both sides - innocent despite their vices, mostly in the role of reluctant prostitutes or belly dancers.

The romantic lovers of the Egyptian screen were first represented by Badr Lama, 'Imad Hamdi, Husain Sidqi , later in the 1950s by Ahmad Mazhar, Kamal al-Shinawi and Omar Charif ('Umar al-Sharif ) and in the 1970s by Husain Fahmi and Mahmud Yasin . Their decent, slightly effeminate noblesse made them excellent romantic lovers, suitable for melodramatic victimization, in contrast to their strict, powerful and paternalistic counterparts - in other words the pashas, fathers and husbands, played by Yusuf Wahbi, Zaki Rustum, Yahia Shahin and later Mahmud Mursi . At the same time, Husain Riyad and Sulayman Nagib used to represent positive and tender fathers.

Physically strong, rude and rebellious men (among others Farid Shauqi, Rushdi Abaza and Shukri Sarhan ) came to the fore with the gangster films of the 1950s and dominated the 1960s. Their agressive masculinity associated them sometimes with criminality and women of ill repute, but they also took positive roles as fighters who secure right and order. Pure villains were, in general, less attractive: for instance, Zaki Rustum and Stéphane Rosti (up to the 1950s), Taufiq al-Diqn (up to the 1960s) or the congenial Mahmud al-Miligi (who starred in many thrillers and gangster films from the late 1940s until the 1970s).

Some male actors were also primarily associated with virtue, like the 1940s actor Husain Sidqi and his slightly sour mimic, the always concerned-looking Salah zu-l--Fiqar , who appeared in the late 1950s. During the 1980s, with the appearance of New Realism, a new type of positive male character developed: 'heroes in blue jeans', young working-class men, roughly attractive and courageous, real social underdogs, best represented by Mahmud 'Abd al-'Aziz, Ahmad Zaki, Nur al-Sharif and, to a certain extent, ' Adil Imam, Mahmud Himida and Faruq al-Fishawi .

The most prevalent characters of Egyptian mainstream cinema are constructed according to a largely conservative moral system which is ruled by clear binary oppositions - good and evil, virtuous and vicious. The essential conflicts are often engendered by cathartic threats and dangers. In this context, males are likely to be threatened socially, whereas females are often exposed to moral dangers. Therefore, as Roy Armes and Lizbeth Malkmus noted, many film titles concerned with women 'imply the illegal (using such words as morals, licit, proof, law, arrest) and many of those concerned with men imply the asocial (bully, smoke, hashish, beasts, bums)' (Malkmus and Armes 1991: 106). Accordingly, women are more associated with emotions, love, passion and the body, and men with strength, power and violence.


All popular genres created by Egyptian cinema throughout its history shared the abso-lute determination to entertain and the permanent readiness to compromise in line with the oft-cited motto 'al-gumhur 'ayiz kidda " (a colloquial phrase meaning 'the audience wants it that way'). Moreover, the Egyptian film industry favoured certain genres due to cultural as well as economic conditions, mainly the musical, melodrama, gangster films, thrillers, farce, comedy and realist films. Science fiction, horror, independent art-movies and even the historical spectacle were, by contrast, rarely produced.

In early cinema the musical played a major role, along with melodrama and farce which were temporarily joined by the Bedouin films. In the course of the boom that started at the end of the 1940s, a new popular formula crystallized. It. was shaped by an entertaining mixture of genres that borrowed from all kinds of films, ranging from farce to melodrama, and was furnished with the obligatory happy ending. Dance, in particular belly dance, as well as music and songs in general, were considered indispensible. Elements of the American music-hall film moved into Egyptian cinema during the late 194Os. The adaption of successful Hollywood productions was quite common and, during the 1950s and 1960s, the spectrum widened further as new genres (like the thriller, gangster films, religious films, political films and melodramatic realism) made their appearence. During the 1970s and 1980s the latter, which was considered more serious than other mainstream genres, developed to become 'social drama' - mostly a mixture or gangster films and melodrama, furnished with social critique. In the same period, characteristics of the Asian karate film were adopted by some second-rate directors, while the old genres (like classical melodrama and the musical) increasingly retreated or were altered.

The musical

The Egyptian musical has contributed decisively to the success of Egyptian cinema. It has recycled both traditional native and Western forms of music and dance, and has thus developed a novel and genuine form of these arts. As a genre, the musical appeared always in alliance with other prevalent genres, be they melodrama, comedy or even realism.

The introduction of sound to cinema was an important factor in promoting the Egyptian musical specifically and the development of a national cinema as whole, not least because of the dominance of European and American products in the film market. Sound established a linguistic barrier between imported films and the regional audience that could be overcome only by dubbing or subtitling. Dubbing is still uncommon in Egypt, mainly because of the expense, and subtitling is problematic because of the high illiteracy rate.

Thus the soundtrack opened a new possibility for spectators to relate to their culture expressed in native music and speech. Therefore it is no wonder that one of the two first Egyptian sound films which appeared in 1932 was a musical: entitled Unshudat al-Fu'ad / Song from the Heart , it was directed by Mario Volpi and starred the singer Nadra. The first Egyptian movie to be successfully exported to other Arab countries was likewise a musical: al-Warda al-Badha ' / The White Rose (1933). It was performed by Muhammad ' Abd al-Wahhab and directed by Muhammad Karim . The success of this film, in contrast to Unshudat al-Fu'ad , was not only due to ' Abd al--Wahhab's popularity (the same applied to Nadra) but also to a far better integration of the music into the narrative. Advised by his director, ' Abd al-Wahhab gave up the long instrumental introductions traditional to Arab songs and instead confined their total length to six minutes.

Although ' Abd al- Wahhab starred only in seven films, he remained a source of musical inspiration for cinema until his death in 1991, composing the songs for innumerable films. In his works he introduced new rhythms, both European and Latin American, which included the rumba, samba, tango and foxtrot. Moreover, he enlarged the traditional Arab takht (orchestra) - which consists of only a few instruments - adding Western instruments and increasing the number of all instruments, which gave him the opportunity to achieve bigger volumes and more musical variation.

He experimented also with the operetta-style in his films Yahya al-Hubb / Long Live Love! (1938), co-starring Layla Murad, and Yawm Sa'id / Happy Day (1940), both by Muhammad Karim , by presenting the musical duet. Farid al-Atrash developed this kind of performance further in (among others) Intisar al-Shabab / The Victory of Youth (1941), with his sister Asmahan, and Lahn Hubbi / Melody of My Love (1953)- both films were by Ahmad Badrakhan .

Early musicals were mainly melodramas centred around a romantic love story, often featuring a young musician striving for recognition. This applies to 'Abd al--Wahhab and to the singer Umm Kulthum, who starred in the first Studio Misr production, Widad (1936), which was also a musical. She largely represented a musi-cally gifted faithful slave in love, as she did in not only Widad but also Dananir (1940) and Sallama (1945). Her mediocre acting was compensated for by her striking voice. Soon, however, other more attractive female singers appeared: first Layla Murad, who was discovered by ' Abd al-Wahhab in their only common film Yahya al-Hubb (1938), and second Asmahan , who appeared in 1941. The latter's promising career came to an end with her sudden death only three years later. Her last film was Gharam Wa Intiqam / Love and Revenge (1944) by Yusuf Wahbi .

Al-Atrash continued performing on his own. He enriched his films with all sorts of music, ranging from Lebanese folksongs to Viennese waltzes, as can be heard in Intisar al-Shabab (1941) and ' Afrita Hanim / Lady Ghost (1949) by Barakat , for example. Apart from him, few other singers and composers left a peculiar musical mark on their films, with notable exceptions being Kahlawi (the specialist in so-called 'Bedouin' rhythms), ' Abd al-'Aziz Mahmud and the composer and singer Munir Murad, Layla Murad's brother, who starred in Kamal al-Tilmissani's Ana Wa Habibi / Me and My Beloved (1953), among other films.

The songs presented were meant to convey the feelings of the heroes and heroines, although at the beginning they were poorly integrated into plot and action. The singers' musical performance was often static and retarded the flow of the action considerably. Niazi Mustafa was one of the first to provide a better integration of songs into the action with his film Masna' al-Zawjat / Factory of Wives (1941); ' Abbas Kamil made similar progress in his ' Arusat al-Bahr / Mermaid (1948), which starred Muhammad Fawzi. The coherence of plot, action and performance was developed further, particularly in backstage musicals like Barakat's melodrama Lahn al-Khulud / Song of Eternity (1952), whic h relied on parallel action and cross-cutting to create sufficient visual variety and secure a steady film rhythm.

Music was considered indispensable to early cinema. Between 1931 and 1961 Egyptian cinema produced 918 films, of which nearly a third were musicals (exactly 270 films). In some years, for example from 1944 to 1946, up to 50 per cent of the films belonged to that genre, with the result that the 1940s were seen as the decade of the Egyptian musical. Forty-six singers - including Huda Sultan, Sabah, Shadia, Nur al-Huda, Sa'd 'Abd al-Wahhab, Muhammad Fawzi, Ibrahim Hamuda, Najat 'Ali and Fathiya Ahmad - are said to have appeared in them as main characters. Some singers starred in up to 100 films, among them Shadia, whose career lasted for almost thirty years.

Thus the initial attachment of the musical to melodrama slackened from the late 1940s onwards and opened up to cheerful musical comedies that often presented music-hall performances. Many of these films cannot be classified according to strict genre categories, as they rather form a mélange . The words of a typical film advertisement of the late 1940s may clarify this: 'a dramatic comedy love story with songs and dances'. Anwar Wagdi first of all specialized in this type of film, introduced among others with Ghazal al-Banat / Girls' Flirtation (1949), starring Layla Murad and Nagib al-Rihani , and developed further in the two films Yasemine (1950) and Dhahab / Gold (1951), starring little Fayruz . Its cheerful style was supported by the musical performance of comedians, such as Shukuku and Isma'il Yasin , who were made to sing some dialogues in a kind of melodious speech. A very cheerful example is found in Ghazal al-Banat , where Nagib al-Rihani performs a charmingly hilarious duet with Layla Murad during a car ride.

The 1950s gave rise to singers, such as the Lebanese Sabah, Huda Sultan, Shadia and 'Abd al-Halim Hafiz, who dominated the screen for the following decade. Huda Sultan , who is still performing today (although no longer as a singer), became one of the femmes fatales of the Egyptian screen and featured in films including the realist al-Usta Hasan / Master Hasan (1952), by Salah Abu Seif , but also starred in a few exceptional musicals along with ' Abd al-'Aziz Mahmud , such as Taxi al-Gharam / Taxi of Love (1954) by Niazi Mustafa , and in the classical melodrama, Imra'a Fi-l-Tariq / Woman on the Road (1958) by ' Izz al-Din zu-l-Fiqar .

Shadia also refined her acting to the point at which she was able to appear in films other than musicals. She started in musical melodramas and then switched to light comedy during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some of her most hilarious films were by Fatin 'Abd al-Wahhab , including al-Zawja Raqam 13 / Wife No. 13 (1962). By contrast, Sabah (who was also a talented singer) was not able to develop a more sophisticated persona. She starred mostly in light musicals featuring innocent or naïve girls.

The music and songs which stood most for that period were performed by 'Abdal-Halim Hafiz. The merging of songs with plot and action in his works was largely conventional, but he introduced an accelerated musical rhythm, backed, among other styles, by elements of beat music. In Husain Kamal's box-office hit Abi Fawq al-Shajara / My Father Up the Tree (1969), based on a Dame aux camelias motif, this tendency was further reinforced. Various songs and sophisticated lively group-dance choreographies seemed to correspond to the libertinage of the young characters and their permissive dresses, including scanty bathing suits and miniskirts. Thus, adapting the persona of the poor handsome and gifted yet unfortunate young man, Hafiz starred in a dozen melodramatic love stories, among others Maw'id Gharam / Love Appointment (1956) by Henri Barakat, al-Wisada al-Khaliyya / The Empty Cushion (1957) by Salah Abu Seif and Hikayat Hubb / Love Story (1959) by Hilmi Halim.

During the 1970s, a general decline of the musical took place and was expressed in two phenomena. First of all, no singer was able to attain the same fame as their predecessor on and off screen; this applies to Muharram Fu'ad, Kamal Husni, Najat al-Saghira, Warda al-Gaza'iriyya, Fayza Ahmad and Maha Sabri during the 1970s and Iman al-Bahr Darwish, Iman 'Abd al-Halim and 'Ali Himida during the 1980s. Even the commercially successful Ahmad 'Adawiyya, who starred in Muhammad Shibl's Rocky Horror Picture Show remake Anyab / Tusks (1981), was not highly valued in Egypt and was considered to be only appropriate to the taste of the Gulf States.

Moreover, the most successful musicals of the 1970s starred actors but not singers for example, the box-office hit Khalli Balak Min Zuzu / Take Care of Zuzu (1972) by the master of melodrama Hasan al-Imam. Su'ad Husni was made to sing and dance, convincingly appearing as a young student, daughter of a belly dancer, who falls in love with an upper-class professor. The vivid, charming musical inserts and the melodramatic plot, brightened up with numerous cheerful scenes including a happy end for the couple in love, were responsible for the formulaic film's great success. Not successful, but one of the few interesting experiments on the musical and narrative level, was Youssef Chahine's tragic musical 'Awdat al-Ibn al-Dall / The Return of the Prodigal Son (1976) - a politically relevant story about a disintegrating post-Nasserist family, which starred the Lebanese singer Magda al-Rumi and included several group dances and al-Rumi's music.

During the 1990s, in spite of the absence of charismatic singers, some talented and committed directors (notably Khairy Beshara, Daoud 'Abd al-Sayed, Mohamed Khan and Sherif 'Arafa ) started reviving the musical. Khairy Beshara was the first New Realist to rediscover songs and dances. As early as 1986 he had included the Nubian pop singer Muhammad Munir in his realist melodrama al-Tawq Wa-l-Iswirra / The Collar and the Bracelet. Then, in his film Kaburya / Crabs (1990), he went further by introducing clear music-hall elements. In his more recent films Ays Krim Fi Glim / Ice Cream in Glim (1992) and Amrika Shika Bika / Abracadabra America (1993) he was able to integrate songs by the popular pop singers ‘Amr Diab and Muhammad Fu'ad and is so far one of the first of his generation to represent a glimpse of youth culture in his works.

Beshara certainly inspired other directors to experiment too. Mohamed Khan, for example, applied the technique of using musical video clips in his film Karate (1996), where he made the popular actor Muhammad Zaki sing and dance. Daoud Abd El-Sayed, by contrast, did not rely on any pop or world music songs for Sariq al-Farah / Wedding Thief (l994). He used occidental music for the songs, thus violating the traditional dichotomy between oriental and occidental music in Egyptian cinema, which usually assigned Western compositions to the background and oriental-inspired music to the songs.

Sherif 'Arafa, certainly the most mainstream among this group, produced a box-office hit in 1991 with Sama' Huss / Silence! (1991). The film presented several songs and, more importantly, a large variety of dances, ranging from belly dances to jazz und breakdancing. Some of the most recent musicals, like Isma'iliyya Rayih Gay / Round Trip to Ismailia (1997) by Karim Diya' al-Din, rely on the same melodramatic plots as the 1960s movies. This film starred Muhammad Fu'ad - in a typical 'Abd al-Halim Hafiz role - as a poor adolescent singer aspiring to fame. The music of the songs has meanwhile become even more syncretic, closely related to world music and including only a few oriental remnants.

During its long history, the Egyptian musical has always put emphasis on the song, whereas the dance was often complementary or secondary. In spite of the importance of belly dance - there is almost no mainstream film without at least an allusion to belly dance - it was in general more of a by-product, referred to in many films in a passing way. Apart from the films which were centred around a female dancer, it generally appeared (and this has not changed much even today) on a quite restricted number of occasions: in weddings, during private parties, in night clubs or in popular festivals. The raqs sharqi (oriental dance) presented in Egyptian movies in fact differs in dress, movement and presentation from the raqs baladi (dance from the country), the traditional belly dance that is still performed in the countryside.

Thus dance, including the oriental dance, was as syncretic as the music of the songs. In 1937, for example, Bahiga Hafiz presented in her film Layla al-Badawiyya supposedly oriental group dances reminiscent to those in Hollywood films of the time. Several girls wearing partly transparent dresses and waving their veils are made to spin around an ancient fountain while being observed by the fabulously dressed Persian king. This changed only slightly during the 1950s, when the music-hall film nourished most, but dance was given more space, grew in sophistication and the accompaniying music borrowed from everywhere: belly dancing, flamenco, Arab folkdance, tap dance and ballet, all were mixed up. The former circus artist Na'ima 'Akif, presented by director Husain Fawzi in (among others) Lahalibu (1949), Fatal al-Sirk / Circus Girl (1951) and Tamr Hinna / Tamerind (1957), and the little girl Fayruz, who starred in several musicals directed by Anwar Wagdi, were particularly successful in presenting this kind of mixture. Both, though not professional singers, were made to sing.

Badi'a Masabni was the first belly dancer to be given a major part, in Malikat al-Masarih / Queen of Theatres (1936) by Mario Volpi. Two other belly dancers who were trained at Masabni's variety theatre succeeded in cinema: Samia Gamal and Tahiyya Carioca. Samia Gamal even developed her own expressive style, borrowing from experimental Western dance. Tahiyya Carioca continued her acting career (even after she had stopped dancing) up to the early 1990s. The belly dance saw a relative decline, however, as the artistic level of new generations of dancers (such as Suhair Zaki and Nagwa Fu'ad during the 1970s and 1980s and Fifl Abdu during the 1980s and 1990s) decreased, along with their moral standing. In particular, Nagwa Fu'ad and Fifi 'Abdu linked belly dance to cheap seduction.

Lucy, who started her career in the 1990s, concentrated on acting and the very popular Sharihan is not considered a belly dancer in the true sense. She became famous because of her performances in the televised musical events that are broadcast during the holy month of Ramadan. Her performances are music-hall oriented and very syncretic in style. Her movies include Suq al-Nisa' / Women's Market (1994) by Yusuf Frinsis and Crystal (1993) by ‘Adil ‘Awad. Since the 1960s actresses have started to accept roles as belly dancers despite their insufficient skill - these include Hind Rustum in Shafiqa al-Qibtiyya / Shafiqa the Copt (1963), Nadia al-Gindi in Bamba Kashar (1974) (both by Hasan al-Imam) and Nabila 'Ubaid in Samir Saif's al-Raqissa Wa-l-Siyasi / The Belly-Dancer and the Politician (1990).

A special place was held by Farida Fahmy and the Rida Group, who starred together in several dance films during the 1960s. They specialized in folkloric group dances and mixed traditional regional peformances, including the belly dance ( al-raqs al-baladi ), with elements of ballet. Ajazat Nisf al-Sana / Mid-Year Vacation (1962) and Gharam Fi-l-Karnak / Love in Karanak (1967), both by ‘Ali Rida, were to be their most acclaimed films. Farida Fahmy's performances did not suffer from their association with belly dance: they were placed in the framework of group dance - in other words, their were neither individual nor related to morally suspect theatres and night clubs.

Farce and comedy

The majority of the narrative silent films were farce or comedy and they were mostly adaptations (or at least re-arrangements) of plays. Such films included Madame Lolita (1919), al-Khala al-Amrikaniyya / The American Aunt (1920), al-Bash Katib / The Chief Secretary (1924) and al-Bahr Biyidhak Leh? / Why Does the Sea Laugh? (1928), featuring the most popular comedians of the early Egyptian film industry, such as ‘Ali al-Kassar and Nagib al-Rihani.

Drawing from the experience of improvised Egyptian theatre ( al-masrah al-murtajal ), in which the actors used to improvise ad hoc jokes and topical allusions around a loose plot, mere farce dominated during the first two decades of Egyptian cinema. ‘Ali al-Kassar and the far less known Shalom, both presented by the director Togo Mizrahi, performed in series of films in which they developed specific masks. Shalom starred as a poor lower class Alexandrian Jew and ‘Ali al-Kassar as the black Nubian 'Uthman ‘Abd al-Basit. Togo Mizrahi directed all the works starring Shalom including Shalum al-Riyadi / Shalom the Sportsman (1937) and al-'Izz Bahdala / Mistreated by Affluence (1937) - as well as for the majority of Kassar's most successful films - such as al-Sa'a Sab'a / Seven O'Clock (1937), al-Tilighraf / Telegram (1938), Salifni Talata Gini / Lend Me Three Pounds (1939) and Alf Layla Wa Layla / One Thousand and One Nights (1941). Unlike Kassar's output, the Shalom films were not very successful, probably because of their poor quality and the limited popularity of the actor.

The stories of these films were fragmentary, mostly focusing on sketches that were only loosely connected by a framing story. Al-Sa'a Sab'a , for example, focused on a nightmare of the Nubian in which he loses his employer's money and is chased for that reason by the police, yet the first third of the film is wasted on sketches before the main plot is even introduced. From the late 1940s the fragmentary style of farce became outdated or at least submerged by the dramatically stricter organization of comedy - although this trend was occasionally interruted by breathtaking nonsense films like Fatin 'Abd al-Wahhab's Isha'it Hubb / Love Rumour (1960) and more recently by Sa'idi Fi-l-Jami'a al-Amirikiyya / An Upper Egyptian at the American University (1998) by Sa'id Hamid.

Egyptian farce has kept to a relatively slow pace, with a few slapstick performances included. It has been rather verbally oriented, using a lot of jokes and wordplay, and relying on the generally clumsy behaviour of its protagonists and their schematized personae. Drawing from the regional tradition of the shadow play, it presented certain pre-defined cranky characters, often characterized by their ethnicity or accents, such as the European foreigner ( khawaga ), the Nubian and the Lebanese.

One of the first clear-cut comedies was Salama Fi Khayr / Salama is Fine , starring Nagib al-Rihani, which for its comic effect relied essentially on the plot - an errand boy is mistaken for a sultan - and the odd situations resulting from it. Other successful films starring Nagib al-Rihani, such as Si 'Umar / Master Oma r (1941) by Niazi Mustafa, Ahmar Shafayif / Red Lipstick (1946) and Lu'bat al-Sitt / The Lady's Game (1946), both by Wali al-Din Samih, all had coherent plots and were spiced by Nagib al-Rihani's fine humour - expressed not only through his nuanced performances but also in the dialogues which he usually scripted himself. Moreover, al-Rihani's persona had no mask, like al-Kassar's; he rather chose to represent a middle-aged poor man who was badly mistreated by others, be they women or the rich.

One of al-Rihani's favourite themes was the experience of a socially misplaced person, as in Salama Fi Khayr where he played a lower-class Egyptian who is asked to replace a sultan. Similarly, in Ghazal al-Banat / Girls' Flirtation (1949) by Anwar Wagdi, he appears as a poor teacher who is hired by a pasha and has to live in the latter's palace. The sudden change of social position has been a recurrent motif of Egyptian cinema, starting with Togo Mizrahi's al-'Izz Bahdala (1937) and ending with Sa'idi Fi-l-Jami'a al-Amirikiyya (1998).

Al-Kassar's and al-Rihani's golden age ended in the late 1940s, marked by Rihani's death in 1949. The shift to light musical comedies which became a characteristic of the 1950s was already visible in al-Rihani's last work, Ghazal al-Banat , which co-starred the singer Layla Murad. It was typical of the new formula: a comedy slightly spiced with melodrama and enriched with songs and music-hall inspired dances. Director and actor Anwar Wagdi directed dozens of these works and starred in some of them himself. He presented not only the singer Layla Murad, but also the charming little girl Fayruz, who could dance and sing as well. Wagdi's most representative, if not always his most polished works, are Ghazal al-Banat, Layla Bint al-Fuqara' / Layla, Daughter of the Poor (1945) and Dhahab / Gold (1951).

The comedian Isma'il Yasin first appeared on the screen in 1939. He was initially, like many other comedians, assigned secondary roles, adding comedy to basically melodramatic plots like that of Dhahab , for example, where a young bourgeois woman is forced to abandon her child only to find her years later in the custody of a poor performer. Yasin subsequently became the star of a whole series of films dedicated to his persona. It started with Isma'il Yasin Fi-l-Jaysh / Isma'il Yasin in the Army (1955), by Fatin 'Abd al-Wahhab, and went on with Yasin in the police, the navy, the airforce, the zoo and so forth. His most accomplished comedy was al-Anissa Hanafi / Miss Hanafi (1954), also by 'Abd al-Wahhab, which evolves around gender reversals. Yasin's physiognomy - particularly his very big mouth - gave him a gorilla-like appearance, which he reinforced with his grimaces, and it led him to develop, just like al-Kassar's Nubian, the mask of a kindhearted but absolutely naive clown who gets out of trouble solely because of his good luck.

Many of the Yasin films were directed by Fatin ‘Abd al-Wahab, who is considered one of the best comedy directors of the period. In the 1960s he worked on light come dies, like al-Zawja Raqam 13 / Wife No. 13 (1962) and Mirati Mudir 'Am / My Wife is a General Director (1966), that were well made on both the artistic and technical levels. These films were performed by dramatic actors and not comedians - in the first case Rushdi Abaza and the singer Shadia and in the second Shadia, again, and Salah zu-l-Fiqar. By focusing on gender relations, these films picked up on another comic theme prevalent since al-Rihani's Ahmar Shafayif / Red Lipstick and Lu'bat al-Sitt / The Lady's Game.

In both al-Zawja Raqam 13 and Mirati Mudir 'Am macho men are taught a hard lesson. In the first instance, a young spouse discovers that her husband had already divorced twelve women and decides, despite being in love with him, to take revenge; in the second, a spouse is made director of the company in which her husband works, very much to his annoyance, yet eventually he has to admit her capabilities. Both films fed into the modernist discourse of gender equality that was popular in the Nasserist era.

Many comedies, however, were presenting shallow love stories that confirmed the most prevalent views: these included A'ilat Zizi / Zizi's Family (1963) by Fatin ‘Abd al- Wahhab, starring the comedian Fu'ad al-Muhandis and the actress Su'ad Husni, and dealing with the love stories of three siblings. In this film the young female protagonist tries to convince a cinema director to give her a main part; however, he finally states that she is incapable of performing, but good enough to become his wife. This film, by the way, became al-Muhandis' most famous film. Otherwise, he starred together with his wife, Shuwikar, in several farces, such as Niazi Mustafa's al-'Ataba Gazaz / Glass Threshold (1969), which relied on al-Muhandis' exaggerated acting and on many silly awkward situations.

Like al-Muhandis, many comedians had to develop a specific mask and were thus assigned to mostly secondary roles, even in comedies starring dramatic actors. An example is ‘Adil Imam, who spiced up Mirati Mudir 'Am as a supporting actor but took another decade to become a star whose name would carry a whole film. These second-rank comic actors had to fill the ranks of many musicals, like Isma'il Yasin in Dhahab or Samir Ghanim in Khalli Balak Min Zuzu , or even in primarily realist films and melodramas, like Mary Munib in al-'Azima / Determination , in order to temporarily relieve the viewer and the protagonists from their anguish. Beshara Wakim, Mary Munib, Siraj Munir, Hasan Shawqi, Zainat Sidqi, ‘Abd al-Salam Nabulsi, Shukuku, Widad Hamdi, ‘Abd al-Mun'im Ibrahim, ‘Abd al-Mun'im Madbuli, Samir Ghanim, Muhammad Rida, Is'ad Yunis, Yusuf Dawud, Ahmad Bidir, An'am Salusa, Nagah al-Mugi and Muhammad Hinidi , among others, added humour to Egyptian films from the 1940s until the present time.

From the 1960s onwards, comedy was also combined with realism, as in Bayn al-Sama' Wa-l-Ard / Between Sky and Earth (1959) and al-Zawja al-Thaniyya / The Second Wife (1967), both by Salah Abu Seif and both, likewise, addressing social issues. The latter is a charming example of this kind of genre mixture: set entirely in the countryside, it tells the story of an old village mayor who forces a young farmer to divorce his beautiful wife in order to marry her himself, and has to pay a high price for his deed.

In spite of a relative decline of artistic and technical standards during the 1970s comedy was increasingly used to express social critiques, as in the work of the directors Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz and his brother 'Umar. Muhammad 'Abd al- 'Aziz's first comedy, Fi-l-Sayf Lazzim Tuhhib / In the Summer You Must Love (1974), drew its humour from the sharp social contradictions displayed. 'Umar 'Abd al-'Aziz focused, In his al-Shaqqa Min Haqq al-Zawja / The Flat Belongs to the Wife (1985), on the housing shortage and the problems evolving from that for young couples about to marry.

Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz also directed one of the first 'Adil Imam films, al-Malifaza Ma'aya / The Wallet is with Me (1978), which is considered one of the director's best films. The next film starring 'Adil Imam, Rajab Fawq Sath Safih Sakhin / Rajab on a Hot Tin Roof (1979), again by 'Abd al-'Aziz, became a major box-office hit and installed Imam as the 'King of Egyptian comedy' for most of the next twenty years. The film was centred around a peasant who goes to town only to end up in prison. Many of Imam's characters experience cathartic conflictual encounters, being confronted with an absurd 'centrifugal' social reality, 'everything flying apart, the widening of gaps between rich and poor, the impotence of institutions' and the destruction of the middle class (Armbrust 1996: 296). In an attempt to embrace society's immoral survival strategies, including theft and fraud, he often dismissed the whole system, as in Ramadan Fawq al-Burkan / Ramadan on the Volcano (1985) by Ahmad al-Sab'awi or al-Afukatu / The Advocate (1984) by Ra'fat al-Mihi - the latter featuring a corrupt lawyer who gets jailed, but supervises his illegal work from there just as comfortably as he had from the outside.

Throughout the 1990s 'Adil Imam, who had become the best-paid Egyptian star, dominated Egyptian mainstream comedy and worked with a variety of directors. He changed his original persona into a smart and tough lower-class man, and was thus able to take on roles in action and gangster films. Examples are al-Mawlid / The Festival (1989) by Samir Saif, al-Mansi / The Forgotten (1993) by Sherif 'Arafa and the historical spectacle Risala Illa al-Wali / Message to the Ruler (1997) by Nadir Galal. Collaboration between 'Adil Imam and director Sherif 'Arafa was particularly fruitful, resulting in one of the box-office hits of the 1990s: al-Irhab Wa-l-Kabab / Terrorism and Kebabs (1992). This work, which made its way also to Western audiences, dismissed the establishment as terrorphobic by presenting an average white-collar worker who is mistaken for a terrorist. Apart from his Imam films, Sherif 'Arafa succeeded in reviving the light musical comedy, with Sama' Huss / Silence! and Ya Mahalabiyya Ya / Oh that Pudding, Oh! (1991). Sherif's musical comedies are based on a similar formula to Anwar Wagdi's musicals, combining partly melodramatic, partly comic action with songs and dances.

One of the really exceptional comedy directors is Ra'fat al-Mihi, who scripted all his films for himself. With his Imam film al-Afukatu , sarcasm and black humour became his special trademark. One of his favourite topics was gender roles, which he successfully put into action in al-Sada al-Rijal / Men, the Gentlemen (1987) and Sayyidati Anisati / Dear Ladies! (1990), starring Ma'ali Zayid and Mahmud 'Abd al-'Aziz respectively. This topic has a long tradition, being first presented by 'Ali al-Kassar who, disguised as a woman, was sexually harrassed in the 1937 film al-Sa'a Sab'a / Seven O'Clock . Others followed, such as al-Anissa Hanafi / Miss Hanafi , star-ring Isma'il Yasin. However, in contrast to the latter, in which everything is resolved happily and everybody takes back their rightful place at the end of the action, Ra'fat al-Mihi's narrations tend to be disturbingly subversive and irreversible. In al-Sada al-Rijal the woman-tumed-into-a-man remains unhappily a man, forcing the former husband to think about a sex-change himself, and in Sayyidati Anisati the polygamous husband of four women becomes pregnant at the end.


Melodrama has a long tradition in Egyptian cinema, as well as in theatre. Its cinematic heyday stretched from the 1940s to the 1960s, at a time when the audience 'joined in singing with the musical comedies and cried hot tears with the abandoned heroine' (Wassaf 1995: 136). In Egyptian cinema melodrama was often combined with musicals, to name only some of the most distinguished these include Dananir (1940) by Ahmad Badrakhan, Layla (1942) by Togo Mizrahi, Henri Barakat's Lahn al-Khulud / Song of Eternity (1952), Abbi Fawq al-Shajara / My Father Up the Tree (1969) by Husain Kamal and Hasan al-Imam's Khalli Balak Min Zuzu / Take Care of Zuzu (1972). The narratives of these films usually revolved around romantic love prevented by insurmountable class differences, yet mostly solved by a surprising happy end.

The directors of the early musicals contributed decisively to the development of melodrama - primarily Muhammad Karim, whose name was linked with Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab after he had presented the latter as an unfortunate lover in al-Warda al-Bayda' / The White Rose (1933), Dumu' al-Hubb / Tears of Love (1935) and Yahya al-Hubb / Long Live Love! (1938). Ahmad Badrakhan, who presented Umm Kulthum in Dananir (1940) and Aida (1942), went on to introduce Farid al-Atrash in Intisar al-Shabab / Victory of Youth (1941), 'Ahd al-Hawa / Promise of Love (1954) and other films. Henri Barakat, by contrast - as well as presenting some of the best musical melodramas, such as Lahn al-Khulud (1952) - also directed folkloric and realist melodramas, including Hasan Wa Na'ima / Hasan and Na'ima (1959), Du'a' al-Karawan / The Cry of the Plover (1959) and al-Haram / The Sin (1965).

Barakat often collaborated with the ultimate icon of Egyptian melodrama: the actress Fatin Hamama. Petite and girlish, with the face of an angel, she innocently lured scores of men into her arms. She also starred in works such as Nahr al-Hubb / Stream of Love (1960) by 'Izz al-Din zu-l-Fiqar, which introduced new sources of disaster to Egyptian melodrama. Director zu-l-Fiqar's characters were not so much mistreated by the social order, but rather by fate in general. Death, handicaps and disease engendered his melodramatic entanglements. He left many acclaimed melodramas, among them Maw'id Ma'a al-Hayat / Rendevouz with Life (1953), Inni Rahilla / I Am Departing (1955) and, most importantly, his patriotic melodrama Rudd Qalbi / Give My Heart Back (1957).

Despite the importance of women to melodrama, male characters were often placed in similarly passive and deplorable positions - negotiating not only the place of women relative to men, but that of the (male) parent relative to the children too. Their victimized position may have been one reason for the slightly 'effeminate' appearance and non-aggressive attitude assigned to the first generation of male Egyptian stars, notably Badr Lama, Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab and 'Imad Hamdi.

It was Muhammad Karim, in his al-Warda al-Bayda' (1933), who introduced one of the core narratives of Egyptian melodrama: a young and poor white-collar worker falls in love with the daughter of his wealthy employer. However, urged by the girl's father and even after his ascent to become an acclaimed singer, he gives up his wish to marry her because of his own inferior social position. The songs and the mise-en-sc_ne , as well as the iconography of the film, strongly support the film's allegorical and melodramatic effect. Similar motifs were repeated in many other films centred around men, like 'Ahd al-Hawa by Ahmad Badrakhan (starring Farid al-Atrash) or Abbi Fawq al-Shajara by Husain Kamal.

In these narratives individual happiness and love stood on one side, while tradition and family rested on the other. The main characters were the loving man or woman and the authoritarian father or a person related to that authority - a wicked opponent who tried to inflict the father's law - embodied by the bad cousins in, for example, Sira' Fi-l-Wadi / Mortal Revenge (1954) by Youssef Chahine and Hasan Wa Na'ima {1959) by Henri Barakat. Such adversaries have to die before the couple in love can reunite. Sira' Fi-l-Wadi condensed this conflict in one of the most legendary scenes in Egyptian cinema: a showdown in the overwhelming scenery of the original Temple of Karnak, where the beautifully matched couple in love hide from the villain and hug while actually threatened by death, an ultimate allegory for a violently suppressed sexual desire.

In association with melodrama, Egyptian cinema expressed a clear critique of the traditional family structure and arranged marriage, two major concerns of Egyptian modernists and feminists. In 1930 Muhammad Karim adapted, in his film Zaynab , a didactic novel by Muhammad Husain Haikal which told the story of the peasant girl Zaynab who is forced to marry someone other than her beloved with fatal consequences. Other films elaborated this motif too, such as the partly realist al-'Azima / Determination (1939) by Kamal Salim, in which the protagonist Fatima falls in love with a similarly young and poor man, while her parents attempt to force her into a marriage with a rich butcher.

Another major motif of Egyptian melodrama was seduction or, as Thomas Elsaesser puts it, 'the metaphorical interpretation of class conflict as sexual exploitation and rape' (Elsaesser 1985: 168). The first full-length feature film that depended on this topic was 'Aziza Amir's Layla (1927). It was centred around the village girl Layla, who gets seduced by her fiance Ahmad. He leaves her later for a Western woman. After becoming pregnant, she dies. Bahiga Hafiz provided the same motif with an anti-colonial flavour in her Layla al-Badawiyya / Layla the Bedouin (1937). Layla, the daughter of an Arab Bedouin shaykh , is known for her beauty and is desired by many of her tribe. However, she is captured by the soldiers of the Persian king, brought to his harem, tortured and almost raped. Eventually, at the end of the film, Layla is rescued by her tribe.

Particularly during the 1940s and 1950s, the topic of the seduced or ruined - but nevertheless noble - woman became increasingly popular in Egyptian mainstream cinema. As a list set up by Galal El-Charkawi shows (al-Sharqawi 1970: 109), in the twenty-three films screened in the 1945-6 season alone, nine seduced and two raped girls appeared. One of the most accomplished melodramas that revolves around such characters is an adaptation of Taha Husain's novella by Henri Barakat: Du'a' al-Karawan / Cry of the Plover (1959). A young servant was raped by her master and subsequently killed by her uncle in order to clear the family's reputation. Her sister (performed by Fatin Hamama) seeks employment with the same master. She makes him fall in love with her in order to revenge her sister's death. Yet their mutual developing love-hate relationship rocks between powerful prohibition and deep desire, and mounts up into a dramatic crescendo in which he dies in her arms after being hit by a bullet meant for her.

Right up to the present day, morally or physically threatened women are indispensible to Egyptian drama. Seduction and rape re-occur in recent films like al-Batniyya (1980) by Husam al-Din Mustafa, Ightisab / Rape (1989) by ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Khaliq, al-Mughtasibun / The Rapists (1989) by Sa'id Marzuq and al-Mansi / The Forgotten (1993), but largely wrapped in a mise-en-scène oriented towards suspense and action with less melodramatic elements. Unjust violent husbands or criminal gangs, as in al-Batniyya (starring Nadia al-Gindi), are the main causes of female hardship in recent films, as opposed to romantic entanglements or inferior social status.

From the 1970s the melodrama seems to have lost its former emotional and psychological impact and sophistication, except for the work of the so-called 'master of melodrama' Hasan al-Imam, who has enjoyed considerable success at the box office with his highly voluptuous films. His stories mostly evolved around unhappy belly dancers or women of ill repute who, in a kind of Dame aux camèlias- plot, fall into impossible love with a young man from a respectable family. This is exemplified best by Shafiqa al-Qibtiyya / Shafiqa the Copt (1963) or his major success Khalli Balak Min Zuzu (1972). His late films, shot on coloured stock, were characterized by lavish filmsets and costumes, and corresponded to melodramatic emotionality of the plots and characters.

During the 1980s and 1990s the melodrama became more or less outdated. The tear-jerking music, dramatic lighting, emotional twists and romantic love were largely gone. What remained were a few exceptions, mainly dramatic plots of women cheated and deceived either by others or by their own lack of ability, such as 'Atabit al-Sittat / Ladies' Threshold (1995) by 'Ali Abd El-Khalek. Here a childless woman seeks the help of a supposed magician, but when she gets pregnant her husband repudiates her in the belief that she has committed adultery. The main characteristic of Egyptian 'post-melodrama' is a realist-oriented mise-en-scène , as in al-Jaraj / The Garage (1995) by 'Ala' Karim, which features a poor woman who works in a garage. She loses her husband and has to give away her numerous children because she does not apply the family-planning programme. In spite of the disastrous outcome, no emotional twists are produced and the action is not underlined by any dramatic gestures or any dominant music.

One reason for the decline of melodrama is certainly the shift to more realist perceptions on and off the screen which, although addressing similar issuses (mainly class difference and social injustice) favoured a less emotional approach. Moreover, an increasing social mobility (particularly after the infitah of the 1970s) reduced the inclination towards melodramatic stories. This applies also to narratives that are centred primarily around women, such as Ahlam Hind Wa Kamilyya / Dreams of Hind and Camelia (1988) by Mohamed Khan, Lahm Rakhis / Cheap Flesh (1995) by Inas al-Dighidi and Ya Dunya Ya Gharami / My Life, My Passion (1996) by Magdi Ahmad 'Ali The women in these films are confronted with a multitude of abuses, but do not succumb.

Bedouin films, gangster films and thrillers

The Bedouin films of early Egyptian cinema usually presented adventures, chivalry, battle scenes and a melodramatic love story. They were probably inspired by the American western and by films starring Rudolph Valentino, such as The Sheik (1921) and Son of the Sheik (1926). Ibrahim Lama was the first to introduce this type of film to Egyptian cinema, starting with Qubla Fi-l-Sahra' / A Kiss in the Desert (1928) and ending with al-Badawiyya al-Hasna' / The Beautiful Bedouin (1947), all starring his brother Badr. Wedad Orfi took up the genre in 1929 for Ghadat al-Sahra' / The Young Lady from the Desert , as did Bahiga Hafiz in her nationalist allegory Layla al-Badawiyya / Layla the Bedouin (completed 1937; released 1944).

Close to Bedouin films were the adaptations of Arab legends, such as the costume drama Abu Zayd al-Hilali (1947) by 'Izz al-Din zu-l-Fiqar and the Italo-Egyptian coproduction al-Saqr / The Hawk (1950) by Salah Abu Seif. Niazi Mustafa's 'Antar lbn Shaddad and Faris Banu Hamdan (both released in 1961) may be considered the last films of a genre which seemed closer to orientalist fantasies than to the life of real existing Arab Bedouin tribes in or outside Egypt. In general, Bedouin films focused on love or minor adventures and were less suspense- and action-oriented than the thrillers and gangster films which appeared during the 1950s.

The gangster film filled the place of the Bedouin film very quickly. During the first two decades of its existence it was often centred around working-class gangs engaged in different kinds of criminal action, like robbery, hijacking and smuggling. Some of the most characteristic examples were Qitar al-Layl / Night Train (1953) and the thrilling al-Rajul al-Thani / The Second Man (1959), both by 'Izz al-Din zu-l-Fiqar. The latter featured an undercover agent who tries to reveal the identity of a gang leader. From the 1950s up to the 1960s the gangster film also flourished in combination with realism: some of its most remarkable examples are Salah Abu Seif's al-Wahsh / The Beast (1954) and Raya Wa Sakina / Raya and Sakina (1953), as well as al-Liss Wa-l-Kilab / The Thief and the Dogs (1962) by Kamal El-Cheikh. They differed by the largely sympathetic characters of their criminals, who were themselves victimized by society.

A subcategory of working-class gangster movies developed into what may be called the 'thug' ( futuwa ) film. It relied on a traditional character, the futuwa , a man who was originally associated with chivalrous nobility responsible for the protection of his neighbourhood. This original interpretation of the character became visible to a certain extent in Husam al-Din Mustafa's adaptation of a Naguib Mahfouz novel, al-Harafish / The Racketeers (1986). In the gangster film, this character was largely presented as a bully or racketeer, close to criminality, who often abused his power for exploitative or illegal actions; examples are Niazi Mustafa's Futuwat al-Husainiyya / Husainiyya Thugs (1954), Salah Abu Seif's al-Futuwa / The Thug (1957) and, later, Futuwat al-Jabal / Mountain Thugs (1982) by Nadir Galal.

Along with the gangster film, the thriller spread - in contrast often centred around upper- or middle-class characters. The genre was most skilfully developed by Kamal El-Cheikh, for example with Hayat Aw Mawt / Life or Death (1954) - the first Egyptian fiction to be shot primarily in the streets - and al-Manzil Raqam 13 / House No. 13 (1952). The latter was centred around a Doctor Caligari-type of story in which hypnosis is used to incite a man to murder. Filled with crimes and intrigues, many El Cheikh films are characterized by high psychological sophistication, as in Tujjar al-Mawt / Death Traders (1957) and in particular al-Layla al-Akhira / The Last Night (1963), starring Fatin Hamama as a woman who has been deprived of her memory and identity by her apparent husband, who turns out to be an imposter.

The 1960s are considered the heyday of the Egyptian thriller, characterized by a high standard of black-and-white photography, combined with dramatic lighting, sophisticated plots and editing. During the 1970s only a small number of remarkable works were produced, including the psychologically disturbing al-Ikhtiyar / The Choice (1970) by Youssef Chahine (about a man's confused identity) and Mamduh Shukri's political thriller Za'ir al-Fajr / Visitor at Dawn (1973), both shot in colour. Also politically oriented were al-Muznibun / The Culprits (1976) by Sa'id Marzuq and 'Ala Mann Nutliq al-Rasas / At Whom Do We Shoot? (1975), written by Ra'fat al-Mihi and directed by Kamal El-Cheikh. The latter film, in particular, unfolded a panorama of society's corruption through a police investigation and was considered one of the highlights of the committed cinema of the 1970s.

Apart from the works cited, the genre started disintegrating by shifting from its former tight construction and clear genre rules to genre mixtures. It developed into social or political dramas, often including cheap chases and poorly staged action scenes, or offered remakes of earlier thrillers, such as two works by Ashraf Fahmi: Washmat 'Ar / Sign of Disgrace (1986), which remade Husam al-Din Mustafa's al-Tariq / The Road (1964), and Layl Wa Khawana / Night and Traitors (1990), which re-enacted al-Liss Wa-l-Kilab .

During the 1980s, kung fu and karate were used for action, along with chases and car crashs. However these elements were rarely presented in a convincing manner, due to the lack of technical facilities and finance. Specialists were also called in, such as the sportsman Yusuf Mansur, who (since the late 1980s) has acted in and designed some mediocre karate films, and the bodybuilder al-Shahat Mabruk, who appeared during the 1990s in several second-rate action films. In addition, the gangster film developed to become a sort of mafia film, taking up the infitah criticism of the early 1980s. Hence many works tended to feature businessmen and nouveaux riches involved in criminal acitivities.

It is hardly surprising that some of the New Realists borrowed, just like the directors of old realism, from the gangster film to make their films more attractive: for example, Atef El-Tayeb's Katibat al-I'dam / The Execution Squad (1989), in which his heroine takes violent vengance on corrupt gangsters. Mohamed Khan also directed gangster films, principally Darbit Shams / Sun Stroke (1980) and Faris al-Madina / City Knight (1992). Khan, however, was more interested in displaying social contradictions than in any kind of spectacular action.

Since the late 1980s two directors, Samir Saif and Nadir Galal, directed relatively persuasive action films - although they offered the usual genre mix. Samir Saif was particularly taken by the American model of speedy action, rapid cutting and physical violence. He directed largely thrilling, yet basically trival and comic films: for instance, his burlesque Shams al-Zinati (1991) - based on The Magnificient Seven by John Sturges (itself a remake of the Japanese original, Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai ) - and, more importantly, the gangster movie al-Nimr Wa-l-Untha / The Tiger and the Woman (1987), which is characterized by its fast-paced action. Both films starred the comedian 'Adil Imam. Nadir Galal also worked on some of 'Adil Imam's minor gangster films, among others Jazirat al-Shaytan / Devil's Island (1990), and the social drama, Malaf Samia Sha'rawi / Samia Sha'rawi's File (1988), starring Nadia alGindi. Top star Nadia al-Gindi featured, moreover, in several politically motivated espionage that chose the Arab-Israeli conflict as a spectacular backdrop for their suspense- and action-oriented plots.


After the abolition of the Kingdom in 1952, Egyptian cinema showed an increasing tendency towards nationalism, anti-colonialism, modernism and so-called 'realist' representation. The developing Egyptian realism aimed to reflect the environment and daily life of the poorer classes, and denounced colonial oppression and social abuses. However, realist films were produced in an entirely commercial framework. They expressed the changed attitude of a segment of the Egyptian mainstream towards social reality. In Egyptian criticism, realism is primarily measured according to its iltizam or socio-political commitment and not its 'authenticity', because (to put it in Lizbeth Malkmus' words) 'a message about reality is mixed up with cinematic realism...' (Malkmus and Armes 1991: 115). Thus no contradiction was seen in classifying a melodrama or an action film as 'realist', as long as it was set among the poor and addressed class difference and social injustice.

Before the Revolution in 1952, this kind of orientation was not welcomed. Not only did censorship (the Faruq Code in particular) discourage realist or socialist representation, but film-makers (such as the musical director Ahmad Badrakhan) also claimed that the audiences preferred to watch luxurious or uncommon surroundings. The first Egyptian feature film considered to be realist by the critics was al-'Azima / Determination by Kamal Selim (Salim), which was made in 1939. The director's original intention was to call the film 'The Alley' ( al-hara ), which was refused by Studio Misr who did not consider that kind of title effective advertising.

Indeed, al-'Azima's realism was expressed less in the construction of its plot (which posits the upper class as the deus ex machina ) than in its 'setting' - that is, in the environment of the protagonist. Set in a lower-class urban neighbourhood, it presents a barber's son who loses his job and wife because of an unlucky coincidence, but regains them in the end with the help of a friend - the son of a pasha. However, in the aftermath of al-'Azima Egyptian cinema saw the appearance of a first socialist orientation. In 1943 Ahmad Kamil Mursi directed al-'Amil / The Worker , which was about a worker starting to demand more rights for himself and for others.

Kamil al-Tilmissani's al-Suq al-Sauda' / The Black Market (1945) focused on structural problems in society. The film is set during World War II and revolves around the struggle of a young white-collar worker against the speculation of traders. Without any melodramatic tear-jerking, the director demonstrates the protagonist's plight through his attempts to uncover the blackmarketeers and to mobilize the inhabitants of his poor neighbourhood against them. The realism unfolds primarily in its accurate reference to the problems of the war economy. Salah Abu Seif's al-Usta Hasan / Master Hasan (1952), which focused on a worker as well, was more concerned with the worker's aspiration for higher social standing than with his actual condition - showing how he leaves his family and gets caught in the nets of an upper-class woman.

During the early 1950s the number of realist-oriented films increased, creating a kind of wave that was responsible for some of the most accomplished works of Egyptian cinema, including Bab al-Hadid / Cairo Main Station (1958), al-Mutamarridun / The Rebels (1966), al-Haram / The Sin (1965) and al-Ard / The Earth (1968). Interestingly, realism's qualitative importance was constantly confused with its actual marginality. Between 1951 and 1971 the film industry produced a total of 1,012 works. In addition to a dozen patriotic and political films, about thirty-two realist films were shot during the same period: that means just one-and-a-half films per year. After nationalization the annual average increased only slightly: between 1963 and 1971 two clearly realist films appeared per year.

In spite of the state's openness after the coup d'état of the free Officers in 1952 to the interests of the underprivileged classes and thus to realist representations (albeit not for representations of topical politics), the genre remained at the mercy of the market. The nationalization of the film industry came only in 1963 and did not initiate any basic changes in the industry's commercial orientation. As a result most of the realist works were produced by the private sector and commercial interests were taken into consideration during their making. During the 1960s some mainstream directors (among others Henri Barakat, Kamal El-Cheikh and Husain Kamal) joined the realist wave for a short while. Otherwise it was confined to three directors: Salah Abu Seif, Taufik Salih and Youssef Chahine, who (apart from Salih) did not refrain completely from directing mainstream works.

The realist inclination of the time was not only linked to topics of class struggle and national liberation, but also to questions of development. Several films appeared which negotiated women's place in society and their right to define themselves: examples are Salah Abu Seif's al-Tariq al-Masdud / The Closed Way (1958) and Anna Hurra / I Am Free (1959), both adapted from stories written by Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus. Henri Barakat directed al-Bab al-Maftuh / The Open Door in 1963, adapted from a novel by Latifa al-Zayat, leading his protagonist out of a suffocating marriage to join the national liberation movement. This emancipatory interest continued also in the 1970s with Sa'id Marzuq's Uridu Hallan / I Want a Solution ( 1975). starring Fatin Hamama as a wife demanding a divorce in vain. This film attacked traditionalist Muslim personal-status legislation. Some other modernist issues were raised: for instance, family planning in Afwah Wa Aranib / Mouths and Rabbit (1977) by Barakat. Qandil Umm Hashim / Umm Hashim's Lamp (1968), a marginal but interesting work by Kamal 'Attia that was adapted from a novel by Yahia Haqqi and starred Shukri Sarhan and Samira Ahmad, was one of the few films to discuss the conflict between mythical and rational thinking, as experienced by a young doctor who returns from Europe to his home town.

Literature played a decisive role in establishing realist cinema in Egypt and resulted in the realization of some of the most accomplished works of Egyptian film history. The novelist Naguib Mahfouz played a major role in shaping cinematic realism particularly the work of director Salah Abu Seif. The collaborations between the two started with the film al-Muntaqqim / The Avenger (1947). In the following years Mahfouz contributed to nine scripts by Abu Seif: among others Raya Wa Sakina / Raya and Sakina (1953), al-Wahsh / The Beast (1954), Shabab Imra'a / Youth of a Woman (1956) and Bayn al-Sama' Wa-l-Ard / Between Sky and Earth (1959). They served as drafts for Abu Seif's most outstanding works.

Realism was entangled with various mainstream genres as well, such as with the gangster film, for example, offering action and suspense, and featuring thieves. monopolists and thugs - as in Salah Abu Seif's works Raya Wa Sakin a, al- Wahsh and al-Futuwa / The Thug (1957) - without necessarily abolishing the binary moralism of mainstream genres. In only a few films (like al-Liss Wa-l-Kilab by El-Cheikh and al-Wahsh by Abu Seif) was the message clearly worked out that society holds responsibility for the hero's aberrations. In the latter film the protagonist is driven into criminality by the feudal structure of the countryside.

In contrast, Abu Seif's Raya Wa Sakina dwells on the spectacular nature of crime and moral antagonism to it, instead of explaining its social background. It features two sisters who kidnap women and kill them in order to steal their gold. The protagonists of al-Futuwa , which is set in a vegetable trade centre and addresses economic monopolization, are clearly split into good and evil. Morality and wealth define each protagonist's character: the poorer a character is, the more virtuous they are found to be.

By addressing class difference and social injustice, some realist films showed a clear melodramatic inclination - to name only two, these include Bidaya Wa Nihaya / Beginning and End (1960) by Salah Abu Seif and al-Haram / The Sin (1965) by Barakat. Bidaya Wa Nihaya is set in pre-independence times and features four siblings who suffer deprivation because of the loss of their father. The family's final disintegration is brought about by the sister, Nafisa, who was seduced by the wealthy grocer's son and turns to the street to finance herself and her younger brother's education. In a dramatic finale, the brother - performed by Omar Charif ('Umar al-Sharif) - forces her to commit suicide, then himself soon follows her lead.

Not only the film's style but also its motif - sexual abuse across the class divide, addressed likewise in al-Haram - places it close to melodrama. Moreover, in view of Bidaya Wa Nihaya's tragic outcome, it is understandable why the attitude of some realist works to social conditions is considered fatalist. The individual is rendered helpless to circumstances and regards society as possessing an omnipotence similar to fate. The same applies to al-Haram . Its protagonist, a poor agricultural seasonal worker who had been raped, dies after having to deliver the resulting child in secret. Yet, contrary to the structure of a regular family melodrama in which the individual would have to bear their plight alone, the death of the woman incites the inhabitants of the village to develop solidarity with the seasonal workers to which the woman belonged.

Solidarity, not so much as an effect of oppressive conditions, but more as an aspect of emotional relief, was presented in some works - like Youssef Chahine's al-Ard (1968) - whose epic depiction of class struggle comes closest to the notion of social realism. Confronted with the selfish interests of large landowners, the small farmers of a village can only choose either to succumb or to unite and defend themselves. Although their resistance is crushed at the end, the film includes moments of group solidarity, where the farmers unite to save their cattle from drowning in the flood.

Apart from al-Ard / The Earth , it was Sira' al-Abtal / Struggle of the Heroes (1962), al-Sayyid Bulti / Mister Bolti (1969) and the extraordinary al-Mutamarridun / The Rebels (1966), directed and written by Taufik Salih, which addressed the issue of class struggle most intensely. They focused on peasants versus feudal authorities and workers versus capitalists. In al-Mutamarridun the conflict was depicted in an entirely allegorical and pessimistic way by following the story of a rebellion. A group of infected people, who are kept in a desert camp in quarantine, take over the camp's direction but build up the same unjust and authoritarian structure as the former administration.

Melodramatic features and the concept of social determinism with its victimized heroes started vanishing with the second wave of Egyptian realism - the so-called 'New Realism' of the post-Sadat era - and was replaced by aggressive accusations against the new materialism. New Realism developed in the early 1980s with the help of a new generation of directors, notably Atef El-Tayeb, Mohamed Khan, Khairy Beshara, Bashir al-Dik and Daoud Abd El-Sayed, nicknamed 'the children of Abu Seif, the street and Coca-Cola '.

The new wave appeared - at least with respect to its subjects - to be much more pragmatic than the old one, although it functioned according to the same mechanisms. It similarly borrowed from commercial genres, primarily the gangster film, could not do without stars and chose a similar milieu, mainly that of the urban petty bourgeoisie. It differed, however, in a stronger integration of original locations - partly by renouncing the studio. Director Mohamed Khan was the first to demonstrate this attitude in Darbit Shams / Sun Stroke (1980), which Was almost entirely shot on the streets. Many of his films played on the idea of the road: among others Ta'ir 'Ala al-Tariq / A Bird on the Road (1981) and Mishwar 'Umar / 'Umar's Errand (1986).

New Realism evolved from changed themes, most of them related to the infitah that was initiated by the Sadat government: moral corruption, materialism, rapid social ascent, labour migration and political abuse. In fact, New Realism had been preceded by the gangster and mafia films in the choice of these particular topics. Intabihu Ayuha al-Sada / Attention, Gentlemen! (1980) by Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz and al-Qitat al-Siman / The Fat Cats (1981) by Hasan Yusuf were the first films to describe corrupt and criminal nouveaux riches . Close to realism in its stylistic and aesthetic qualities was Ahl al-Qimma / People from the Top (1981) by 'Ali Badrakahn. It told the story of a young woman who, under pressure from a former criminal businessman, complies with his wish to make her his wife. In spite of a bad conscience, she is urged by her need to escape the unbearable deprivations of her living conditions.

In order to tackle the moral corruption of the new era, many new realists concentrated on the family, whose members ideally should be loyal under any circumstances. The film Sawaq al-Utubis / The Bus-Driver (1983). by Atef El-Tayeb, was typical of this orientation to the extent that it was considered by some critics the real start of New Realism. Its story centred on a bus- and taxi-driver whose father's workshop is threatened with expropriation because the manager had evaded paying tax for many years. However, apart from the driver, none of the father's children are interested in keeping the workshop - they would rather make quick money out of it.

Thus new materialism seemed to endanger even the unity of families. Just like Sawaq al-Utubis , in Bashir al-Dik's al-Tufan / The Flood (1985) the grown-up children risk or even actively contribute to the death of their parents in order to enlarge their profits. Conflicts and competitive fights that erupt between relatives und friends are terminated in many cases by a bloody showdown, as in Daoud Abd El-Sayed's al-Sa'alik / The Vagabonds (1983), in which two former urban tramps who have jointly accumulated a great fortune end up killing each other.

Another characteristic of the 1970s, the emigration of labour (mainly to the Gulf countries), was expressed in Khan's 'Awdat Muwatin / Return of a Citizen (1986) and al-Dik's Sikkat Safar / A Way to Travel (1986) in relation to consumerism and materialism. The depicted alienation of the heroes, their own and their relatives' aspiration to better social standing is characterized as a threat to traditional family unity and values.

Hence, New Realism discovered different enemies. Instead of the old landowners and pashas, unscrupulous businessmen, the corrupt nouveaux riches and thieves were attacked and the destruction of the middle class deplored. The conflict was often resolved in a bloody manner, as in Katibat al-I’dam / The Execution Squad (1989) by El-Tayeb, in which four people (including one woman) take revenge by killing a corrupt infitah -businessman.

Violence associated with abuse of power was also presented in al- Takhshiba / The Arrest (1984), Malaf Fi-l-Adab / A Vice Squad File (1986), both by Atef El-Tayeb, and Zawjat Rajul Muhimm / Wife of an Important Man (1988) by Mohamed Khan. While the latter had a rather political orientation, Atef El-Tayeb's works concentrated on the vulnerability of citizens (in these examples all women) to the executive apparatus.

However, some films pointed simply to the difficult living conditions experienced by the lower classes, without putting them into conflict with infitah -representatives. Such films include the family portrait Yawm Murr Yawm Hulw / Bitter Day, Sweet Day (1988) by Khairy Beshara or Hubb Fawq Hadabit al-Harram / Love at the Pyramids (1986) by Atef El-Tayeb, dealing with the housing problem which prevents young couples from getting married. Beshara also presented one of the few New Realist films set in the countryside: his beautifully shot al-Tawq Wa-l-Iswira / The Collar and the Bracelet (1986).

During the 1990s new realism declined in spite of the box-office hit al-Kitkat (1991) by Daoud Abd El-Sayed and the ascent of a new generation echoing the preoccupations of the 1980s. They included Radwan al-Khashif with Lih Ya Banafsij / Oh Violets, Why? (1993), Magdi Ahmad ‘Ali with Ya Dunya Ya Gharami / My Lift, My Passion (1996), 'Afarit al-Asfalt / Asphalt Devils (1996) by Usama Fawzi and Hysteria (1998) by ‘Adil Adib. These films tried to remain faithful to lower-class reality, albeit with a slight twist. They largely focused on gender relations juxtaposed with social and sexual deprivation.

The political film

Addressing politics made Egyptian films more liable to be censored and so topical statements are in general avoided and relevant political allusions mostly either get encoded or are made retrospectively. Some films, however, were read by the censor as topical political statements, although it was not necessarily their intention - as was the case for Layla al-Badawiyya / Layla the Bedouin (1937) by Bahiga Hafiz, Lashin (1938) by Fritz Kramp and al-Mutamarridun / The Rebels (1966) by Taufiq Salih. In general, political films picked out (often retrospectively) many of Egypt's urgent problems, such as British colonialism, national independence, the Arab-Israeli conflict, official corruption and, last but not least, human rights violations.

Overt anti-colonialism and patriotism was first voiced in Ahmad Badrakhan's Mustafa Kamil (1952), which recounted the biography of one of the major Egyptian nationalists. The film moreover addressed the Dunshiway incident in 1906, in which dozens of villagers were arbitrarily hung by the British. In addition, it alluded to the events which led to the 1919 revolution. As a result, the film was released only after the coup d'etat in July 1952. Other films which tackled British colonialism largely presented courageous resistance fighters at work; these included Yasqut al-Isti'mar / Down with Colonialism! (1953) by Husain Sidqi and La Waqt Li-l-Hubb / No Time for Love (1962) by Salah Abu Seif. Appreciated for its cinematic qualities was Henri Barakat's Fi Baytinna Rajul / A Man in Our House (1961) - starring Omar Charif, it was adapted from an Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus novel about a middle-class family who accidentially hide a young resistance fighter. Colonialism and resistance stopped being addressed after Nasser's demise.

The earliest politically inspired Egyptian film was probably Mahmud zu-l-Fiqar's Fatat Min Filastin / A Girl from Palestine (1948) whose storyline was echoed years later in Ard al-Salam / Land of Peace (1957) by Kamal El-Cheikh. Both featured Egyptian fighters who are wounded in a military confrontation with Israelis, become the guests of Palestinians and are cared for by a Palestinian girl whom they later marry. Thus the Palestinian question was subordinated to genre rules and dealt with in an emotional -rather than analytical - way. Moreover, it seemed secondary in relation to the Egyptian-Israeli conflict, for the only Egyptian film that was entirely centred around a Palestinian character was the biopic Naji al-'Ali (1992) by Atef EI-Tayeb, an expensive Lebanese-Egyptian co-production about the famous Palestinian caricaturist, yet weakened by Bashir al-Dik's shallow screenplay.

Works which touched upon the various military confrontations with Israel were more numerous and depicted the direct effects of military action on the Egyptian population, the heroic attempts to fight back and some of the reasons for the country's consecutive defeats. Early examples were Ahamd Badrakhan's Allahu Ma'na / God is with Us (1952), Niazi Mustafa's Ard al-Abtal / Land of Heroes (1953) and 'Izz al-Din zu-l-Fiqar's Port Said (1957). They tend to concentrate on human relationships and do not depict any elaborate battle scenes, except for al-Rasasa La Tazal Fi Jaybi / The Bullet is Still in My Pocket (1974) by Husam al-Din Mustafa, which featured a young villager who decides to take part in the frontier war ( harb al-istinzaf ) that lasted from 1968 until the Yom Kippur War (October War) in 1973 as a reaction against the corruption experienced in his home town. Another exception is the more recent television production al-Tariq Illa Aylat / The Way to Eilat (1995) by An'am Muhammad 'Ali. which re-enacts a sabotage operation carried out by Egyptian officers against the Israeli military forces and includes some sophisticated explosions and several underwater scenes.

Along with the war film, the espionage film appeared. The earliest film of that category was Jarima Fi-l-Hay al-Hadi' / A Crime in the Calm Neighbourhood (1967) by Husam ad-Din Mustafa. It depicted the preparations for the assassination of Lord Moyne, the British minister resident in the Middle East, who was murdered in Cairo by the radical Zionist Stem Gang in 1944. The more recent espionage films, I'dam Mayitt / Execution of a Dead Man (1985) by 'Ali Abd El-Khalek and Muhimma Fi Tall-Abib / Mission in Tel Aviv (1992) by Nadir Galal, were set on the eve of the Yom Kippur War (October War). In both works the Israeli intelligence service gets outwitted by its Egyptian adversaries. Extensive chases, physical violence (including torture) and sexual seduction are indispensable means to support the action. The same applies to the costume drama al-Jasusa Hikmat Fahmi / The Spy Hikmat Fahmi (1994) by Husam al-Din Mustafa, starring Nadia al-Gindi, whose action takes place during World War II.

Few political films surpassed the commercial formula to present less conventional and genre-oriented forms. Rather, they were concerned with the inner crisis of either society or individuals and pointed out corruption, nepotism and lack of democracy, correlated with Egypt's wars and defeats. Zilal 'Ala al-Janib al-Akhar / Shadows on the Other Side (1971) and Ughniyya 'Ala al-Mamar / Song on the Passage (1972) described both the inner crisis and ambiguities of its characters as reasons for the military defeat, as did Husain Kamal's Tharthara Fawq al-Nil / Adrift on the Nile (1971) - an adaptation of a Naguib Mahfouz novel - and Chahine's al-'Usfur / The Sparrow (1972). One of the more recent works, al-Aqdar al-Damiyya / Bloody Destinies (1982) by Khairy Beshara, displayed the disintegration of an upper-class family in the time of the 1948 war in Palestine.

Apart from military conflict with Israel, some works chose to address the Egypt's political system. Not all of them were critical. Fajr Yawm Jadid / Dawn of a New Day (1964) by Youssef Chahine, for example, glorified Nasserism and the new regime. Through the figure of a young student, the director characterized the new system as dynamic and progressive, whereas the pre-revolutionary bourgeoisie were shown as parasitic and unable to share in bearing the ideals of progress and social justice.

However, the critique of Nasserism increased gradually after 1967. Miramar (1969) by Kamal El-Cheikh (which was only released after Nasser's death in 1970) and Salah Abu Seif's al-Qadiyya 68 / The Process 68 (1968) dismissed the revolution and its party - the Arab Socialist Union. Moreover, during the 1970s film-makers started blaming the Nasserist regime for human rights violations. In particular, al-Karnak (1975) by 'Ali Badrakhan relied on the representation of torture and rape in his portrait of a student couple who are captured by the state security forces and tortured. However, the Sadat era was also accused of human rights abuses in, among other films, al-Bari'l / The Innocent (1986) by Atef El-Tayeb and in al-Tahwila / The Switch (1996) by Amali Bahansi. Both films are set in desert concentration camps and convincingly attack the sadistic abuses of the officers in charge.

In contrast, Za'ir al-Fajr / Visitor at Dawn (1973) by Mamduh Shukri featured, in a very subtle and convincing way, political terror exerted by the state security - evolving his plot from the demise of a female journalist. This film is also counted as being among the most important Egyptian films on the formal level. The same applies to Zawjat Rajul Muhimm / Wife of an Important Man (1988) by Mohamed Khan. It was also less interested in the immediate portrayal of physical abuse and the critique of a specific government, than in the human and psychological dimensions of physical and political abuse. Thus the film portrays the development of an ambitious officer into an unscrupulous and fascistic personality that serves the interests of the regime, with the change mirrored in his wife, who experiences a total moral and emotional breakdown living at his side.

In general Egyptian cinema turned a blind eye to one of the most urgent current problems: confessionaiism and increasing religious fundamentalism. Muslim fundamentalism was addressed for the first time in Sa'd 'Arafa's mediocre Ghuraba' / Strangers (1973). A more spectacular reception for a similarly mediocre film was waiting for al-Irhabi / The Terrorist (1994) by Nadir Galal (starring 'Adil Imam), which shows - quite naïvely - the coming to reason of a former terrorist who has been injured and hosted by a liberal upper-class family. This film was backed by the goverment and released in the movie theatres under heavy police protection.

The historical film

The number of historical films produced by Egypt has remained relatively low, even if those that are set in periods close to the film's actual production time and require as a result less changes in props and costumes are included. The main reason is certainly the high budgets required for this genre. Some examples, though, are al-Ard / The Earth (1968), set in the 1930s, and Iskandariyya Lih? / Alexandria, Why? (1978) and al-Aqdar al-Damiyya / Bloody Destinies (1982), both situated in the 1940s.

It is noteworthy that the ratio of costume and historical dramas was much higher during the early decades of the industry. Between 1935 and 1950 the country produced seven explicitly historical films. Another dozen costume dramas were shot during the same period and furnished with a historical touch, although they were basically popular fairy-tales or legends like "Antar and 'Abla', 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves', 'Abu Zayd al-Hilali' and 'Juha'. With a few exceptions, such as Ahmad Galal's Shajarat al-Durr (1935) and Ahmad Badrakhan's Dananir (1940), most of the historical films were neither based on a literary model nor any profound knowledge of the cited epoch. They were furthermore made subject to genre rules: the melodramatic musical in the cases of Widad (1936) by Fritz Kramp and Sallama (1945) by Ahmad Badrakhan, and the farce in the case of Alf Layla Wa Layla / One Thousand and One Nights (1941) by Togo Mizrahi (starring 'Ali al-Kassar).

Unlike now, the first historical productions were essentially governed by business considerations. Producers seemed to be well aware of the legendary past's attractiviness. Some of the productions during the 1930s and 1940s, notably Widad (1936), Layla al-Badawiyya (1944 - completed 1937), Lashin (1938) and Dananir , (1940), were careful to use lavish props and costumes. The earliest productions of Studio Misr were historical spectacles: the musical Widad and the drama Lashin , both by Fritz Kramp. The Ummayad and Abbasid periods, which are considered the golden age of Islam, were the preferred temporal framework of many of these films.

From the early 1960s the number of historicals fell gradually in relation to total production. Some legendary stories were still brought to the screen, however: for instance, 'Antar Ibn Shaddad (1961) and Amirat al-'Arab / The Princess of Arabs (1963) by Niazi Mustafa, as well as Amir al-Daha' / The Artful Prince (1964) by Henri Barakat. The most expensive and spectacular productions were Wa Islamah / Oh Islam! (1961) by Andrew Marton and al-Nasir Salah al-Din / The Victorious Saladin (1963) by Youssef Chahine. The latter is still one of the most remarkabe historical movies of Egyptian film history, due in part to Chahine's skill in handling fierce battle scenes but also to the careful set and costume designs of Wali al-Din Samih and Chadi Abedessalam. The film was not accurate in describing the crusades, but rather an apologetic nationalist statement, depicting the Kurdish warlord Salah al-Din al-Ayubi as a pan-Arab national hero who defeated the crusaders not just by his military skill but by his wisdom, righteousnes and dignity.

Apart from 'secular' historical spectaculars, twelve religious films were made, interestingly, during the Nasserist period (1951-72). Most of them were set in the time of the Prophet and presented the conversion of Arab pagans to the new teachings. These included Zuhur al-Islam / The Emergence of Islam (1951) by Ibrahim 'lzz al-Din, Intissar al-Islam / The Victory of Islam (1952) by Ahamd al-Tukhi, Hijrat al-Rasul / The Emigration of the Prophet (1962) by Ibrahim 'Imara and Fajr al-Islam / The Dawn of Islam (1971) by Salah Abu Seif. Most religious films, such as Bilal Mu'azzin al-Rasul / Bilal: The Prophet's Muezzin (1953) by Ahmad al-Tukhi and Khalid Ibn al-Walid (1958) by Husain Sidqi, were centred around historical personalities related either to the Prophet or to Islam in general. Three films featured famous Sufi personalities: one was Rah'a al-'Adawiyya (1963) by Niazi Mustafa.

Many of the religious films were of poor dramatic or cinematic quality. They displayed the conventional binary morality of melodrama, livened up by some elements from war and gangster films. As in Western devotional fims depicting the martyrdom of early Christianity, they focused on the atrocities that early Muslim believers had been exposed to and endured patiently with a suffering expression and wrapped in indispensable white gowns. After 1972, no more religious films appeared.

All the cited works, whether secular or religious, were set in the Arab-Muslim past. Not a single Egyptian film dealt with the Coptic past and almost none with the Ancient Egyptian past. The reason was perhaps the marginal cultural identification with these two periods. Apart from Ibrahim Lama's mediocre Cleopatra (1943), the principal exceptions were Chadi Abdessalam's short film al-Fallah al-Fasih / The Eloquent Peasant (1970) and Youssef Chahine's biblical Joseph-story adaptation al-Muhajir / The Emigrant (1994). Moreover, in his Iskandariyya Kaman Wa Kaman / Alexandria Now and Forever (1991), Chahine alluded in passing to the Graeco-Roman period.

Only a few Egyptian films chose the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a back ground. 'Ali Badrakhan, for example, referred allegorically to present-day anomalies by depicting economic monopolization and exploitation in the nineteenth century. In al-Gu' / Hunger (1986) he portrayed, in accordance with the prevalent infitah criticism, the rise and fall of a speculator, while in Shafiqa Wa Mitwalli / Shafiqa and Mitwalli (1978) he told the sad story of two sexually and politically abused siblings by pointing out the ordeals suffered by Egyptian labour forced to dig the Suez Canal. Of similarly high cinematic quality was Youssef Chahine's expensive co-production Wada'a Bonaparte / Adieu Bonaparte (1985), which stands out for its unconventional story, its charming characters and its good set design. The film focused on three different brothers, whose stories are told against the background of Napoleon's failed expedition to Egypt. It furthermore addressed the encounter of the two cultures from an experiential perspective.

The most important Egyptian historical art-film is al-Mumya' / The Mummy: The Night of Counting the Years (1969), which is also set in the nineteenth century. Inspired by the famous discovery of the hiding place in the Valley of Kings of royal mummies from several dynasties, the film is centred on the quest for identity of a young Egyptian. It has a special place in Egyptian film history because of its aesthetic and narrative coherence and sophistication.

Experiments and young directors

During the 1960s and 1970s realist cinema was perceived to be in opposition to commercial cinema. This was, first of all, because it showed interest in the popular native environment rather than the Westernized upper classes and, second, because of its partly anti-colonial and quasi-socialist messages. On the stylistic and narrative level, however, it remained faithful to mainstream cinema. No conscious attempts to break the rules on these two levels were made before the 1960s.

It was only after the military defeat in 1967 that new ideas and artistic orientations which departed to a certain degree from the mainstream began to spread. In particular, the members of the New Cinema Society (founded in 1969) were inspired by European 'new wave' cinema and, most significantly, by the ideas of the Oberhausen Manifesto. The society included screenwriters, directors and film critics who intended to produce politically committed films that deviated from the prevailing Egyptian mainstream. The two full-length feature films that were directed by its members are Ughniyya 'Ala al-Mamar / Song on the Passage (1972) by 'Ali Abd El-Khalek and Zilal ‘Ala al-Janib al-Akhar / Shadows on the Other Side (1973) by Ghaleb Chaath. Both films were based on literary works and introduced in the narrative a kind of 'polyphony' that disrupts the omniscient realist discourse to create a variety of subjective voices and perspectives.

Other individual attempts to break from the mainstream were made, such as Husain Kamal's al-Mustahil / The Impossible (1965), al-'Usfur / The Sparrow (1972) by Youssef Chahine and Zawjati Wa-l-Kalb / My Wife and the Dog (1971) by Sa'id Marzuq. The extensive use of flashbacks, daydreams and nightmares gave these films their special character. Zawjati Wa-l-Kalb seems particularly successful in leading the spectator astray, as the largest part of the film's action turns out to be a fantasy imagined by its main character, the warden of a lighthouse, who has sent his colleague with a message to his young wife and is tortured by the idea of his wife making love to the messenger.

The most interesting Egyptian art-movie is al-Mumya' (1969) by Chadi Abdessalam, primarily because of its stylistic achievements. However, due to neglect by its producer, the General Film Organisation, the film was only released in 1975; thus the immediate impact of this (eventually) highly acclaimed film remained small. The opposite was true of Youssef Chahine's work. He was the first to introduce a radically personal cinema with his semi-autobiographical Iskandariyya Lih? / Alexandria Why? (1978). It is not just one of his most accomplished films, but also encouraged young directors across the whole Arab world, including Mohammed Malas and Nouri Bouzid. Chahine supplemented this film, which brought him the Silbener Bär award in the Berlin Film Festival of 1979, with two other films: Haduta Misriyya / An Egyptian Fairy-Tale (1982) and Iskandariyya Kaman Wa Kaman / Alexandria Now and Forever (1989). This trilogy was characterized by its narrative and stylistic hybridity, mixing genres and film types - Chahine used everything from archival documentary footage to theatre peformances, as well as songs, dances and flashbacks, all adding up to a subjective statement on his family as well as socio-political surroundings.

Other young Egyptian directors made more or less successful attempts to make their autobiographies or at least enrich their films with autobiographical items: Yousri Nasrallah did so in Sariqat Sayfiyya / Summer Thefts (1988) and in a strongly transfigured way in the unique Mercedes (1993). Stylistically less eccentric but narratively to the point was Khairy Beshara's al-'Awama 70 / Houseboat 70 (1982), the portrait of a young film-maker who is confronted with a political murder. He turns out to be mentally paralyzed, unable to respond, being caught in emotional and political contradictions and torn between his personal predilections and the ideal of social responsibility.

Exceptional, on both the narrative and thematic levels, are two works by Daoud Abd El-Sayed: al-Bahth 'An Sayyid Marzuq / The Search for Sayyid Marzuq (1991) and Ard al-Khawf / Land of Fear (1999). Both have plots structured around the motifs of an existential journey through which an individual tries in vain to retrieve their own identity. Ard al-Khawf may be considered one of the most accomplished Egyptian films of the last decade on the cinematic level, as well as on the narrative level. It manages to dress up the metaphysical quest for truth in a thrilling gangster film plot, featuring Ahmad Zaki as an undercover agent who becomes an influential drug dealer, loses track of his superiors and finally loses confidence in his real identity.

The major problem hampering the development of an alternative Egyptian artcinema is the lack of economic facilities. Co-production with Europe has proven to be one way out of the dilemma, dictating other thematic and aesthetic orientations. Otherwise film-makers are entirely dependent on the industry, with all the obstacles and interferences related to it.

Remakes and literary adaptation

The Egyptian film industry from the very beginning sought literary and cinematic sources of inspiration, both regional and international. Some of the first literary adaptations based on local writing were Zaynab (1930) by Muhammad Karim and Ahmad Galal's Shajarat al-Durr (1935), which were adapted from novels by Muhammad Husain Haikal and Jilji Zaydan respectively. Subsequently the tendency to adapt increased and the list of Egyptian authors whose works were adapted is long: Taufiq al-Hakim in Rusasa Fi-l-Qalb / A Shot in the Heart (1944) by Muhammad Karim, Yusuf Idris in al-Haram / The Sin by Henri Barakat, Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus in al-Banat Wa-l-Saif / Girls and the Summer (1960) by Salah Abu Seif (among others), Yusuf al-Siba'i in Nadia (1969) by Ahmad Badrakhan, Isma'il Wali al-Din in Hamam al-Malatili / The Malatili Bath (1973) by Abu Seif, Ibrahim Aslan in al-Kitkat (1991) by Daoud Abd El-Sayed and so on. Regional legends, fairy-tales and popular epics and songs (like the mawal ) were adapted too.

Egyptian literature in particular shaped realism decisively. The realist novelist Naguib Mahfouz became one of the most adapted authors, with thirty-eight of his novels and short stories presented on screen. Two Mahfouz adaptations directed by Abu Seif - Bidaya Wa Nihaya / Beginning and End (1960) and al-Qahira 30 / Cairo 30 (1966), the latter from Mahfouz's al-Qahira al-Jadida (The New Cairo ) - are among the most important films of Egyptian realism.

Other major writers contributed to realism as well. Taufik Salih's Yawmiyat Na'ib Fi-l-Aryaf / Diary of a Country Prosecutor (1968) was based on Taufiq al-Hakim's novel. Youssef Chahine adapted the novel al-Ard (The Earth ) by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi, to produce one of the most notable examples of Egyptian realism. Other directors owe their few realist films to adaptations of literary texts: Henri Barakat for his al-Haram (1965), Kamal El-Cheikh for al-Liss Wa-l-Kilab / The Thief and the Dogs (1962) and Miramar (1968), and Husain Kamal for Tharthara Fawq al-Nil / Adrift on the Nile (1971), the last three all from works by Mahfouz.

Furthermore, Egyptian film-makers 'Egyptianized' many internationally known literary works, primarily by French, British and Russian authors - to name only a few of them, they included Dumas fils , Balzac, Gide, Wilde, Emily Brontë and Dostoevsky - as well as a limited number of Americans - such as Mark Twain and Arthur Miller, among others. French realism in particular enjoyed great popularity, mainly during the 1940s and 1950s: La dame aux camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils was adapted up to six times - the closest adaptation to the original was Layla (1942) by Togo Mizrahi - and its main motif (the loyal courtesan and an upper-class son in love) was recycled in numerous other films. Le comte de Monte Cristo by Dumas père was also adapted six times - first by Henri Barakat in Amir al-Intiqam / Prince of Revenge (1948) - so was Pagnol's Fanny . Victor Hugo's Les misérables was adapted twice by Kamal Selm in 1942 and then by 'Atif Salim in 1978. Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin was translated into cinema in (among other films) Lak Yawm Ya Zalim / Your Day is Coming (1951) by Salah Abu Seif .

Most prominent among non-French writings were Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, Anna Karenina and Resurrection by Tolstoy and Gogol's The General Inspector . Classic plays, such as Molière's The Miser and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , also proved to be popular sources. Taming of the Shrew was presented most recently in Inus al-Dighidi's Istakusa / Lobster (1996).

Foreign works tended to be Egyptianized to the extent that they were no longer recognizable. Screenwriters often retained only the basic plot of the story, stipped it of of all its temporal and regional specificities - this happened to Anna Karenina in Nahr al-Hubb / Stream of Love (1958) by 'Izz al-Din zu-l-Fiqar. Placing setting and characters in an entirely local context offered the opportunity to repackage conservative values in a more modern framework. The same applies also to film remakes. In the majority they followed American models, more or less successfully copying the plot and placing it (sometimes but not always convincingly) in an Egyptian context. Between 1942 and 1992, 196 remakes and literary adaptations from American sources were counted. The most adapted directors were Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, George Cukor, William Wyler, Alfred Hitchcock, King Vidor, Brian de Palma and Francis Ford Coppola.

Only a few remakes may be considered milestones in Egyptian film history, contrary to the literary adaptations which were not only more prestigious but managed also to achieve higher cinematic standards. This may be due to the fact that in the main it was less talented directors who tended to remake foreign box-office hits and for primarily commercial reasons. However some of those worth mentioning are Layla Bint al-Aghniya' / Layla, Daughter of the Rich (1946) by Anwar Wagdi (based on Capra's It Happened One Night ), Imra'a Fi-l-Tariq / A Woman on the Road (1958) by 'Izz al-Din zu-l-Fiqar (adapted from King Vidor's Duel in the Sun ) and Darbit Shams / Sun Stroke (1980) by Mohamed Khan (a remake of Antonioni's Blow Up ).

Short films and documentaries

Short films and documentaries in Egyptian cinema are neglected, both in terms of production and distribution opportunities and through a lack of documentation and analysis. As elsewhere, in Egypt the production of shorts preceded the full-length feature. Yet short films and documentaries were soon marginalized by the film industry, despite constant official and unofficial attempts to develop them.

The first Egyptian documentaries presented small items, like De Lagarne's The Streets of Alexandria , shot in 1912, or later Bayyumi's recordings of different places and events (including the return of Sa'd Zaghlul from exile in 1923) for his Amun newsreel. The first regular newreels, Jaridat Misr / Egypt Journal , were issued by Sharikat Misr and directed by Hasan Murad. The following films were either instructional and primarily concerned with development, like Muhammad Karim's al-Ta'awun / Co-operation (1931) and Gamal Madkur's Mashru' al-Qirsh / The Penny Project (1932), or propagandistic, like al-Mu'tamar al-Wafdi ‘Am 1934 / The Wafdist Congress in 1934 and Bank Misr Wa Shurakah / Misr Bank & Co . (1935), both by Niazi Mustafa.

After Jaridat Misr was provided with sound in 1938, it was issued on a weekly basis. Studio Misr became the producer of the first carefully structured documentaries, which were already being shot before the end of the 1940s when the pioneer of Egyptian documentary, Sa'd Nadim, set up a short-film section at the studio that produced largely information films. Notwithstanding these efforts, the studio did not secure steady and continuous production, neither did the ministries of health, agriculture and social affairs who had also started producing documentaries relevant to their interests. All in all, forty films of this type were realized between 1924 and 1952.

After 1952, the Ministry of National Guidance created a film production depart ment but failed to achieve its objectives. Several other governmental administrations tried their luck in the production of instructional fIlms and different public film units were created, among them the short-lived Cinema Support Organization ( mu'asassat da'm al-sinima ). In 1962 it produced some interesting films, like Wali al-Din Samih's Hurub al-'a'ila al-Muqadasa / The Flight of the Holy Family , Taufiq Salih's al-Qulla / The Jug and Sa'd Nadim's series (seven films) on Nubia.

The most productive institution during the Nasserist reign was the Information Administration, with an output of around 120 films between 1954 and 1966. Its production was dominated by developmental, tourist and ethnographic films that documented traditions, crafts, monuments, development programmes and national industrial achievements, notably with Khalil Shauqi's al-Hadid Wa-l-Sulb / Iron and Steel (1958) and more importantly through a series shot by Salah al-Tuhami which started in 1961 with four parts called Zikrayat Muhandis / Memories of an Engineer and depicted the construction of the High Dam. In 1962 the series was issued monthly under the title Sibaq Ma'a al-Zaman / Race against Time and amounted to thirty-seven films.

After the creation of the General Egyptian Film Organization in 1963, the National Documentary Film Centre was set up in 1968 - it operated properly only for one year. It produced, however, one of the few experimental films of Egyptian cinema, Thawrat al-Makkan / The Revolution of Machines (1968) by Madkur Thabit. The Film Centre was reorganized in 1971 under the supervision of Sa'd Nadim. It secured a stable continuous production only until 1976, though, with a total output of sixty films. It is noteworthy that the early 1970s were characterized by a new wave in style and, to a certain extent, technique. During this period some of the most critical documentaries appeared, characterized by a deep interest in people's living conditions. Less conformist to the state and more conscious of social problems, al-Nil Arzaq / Daily Bread on the Nile (1972) by Hashem El-Nahas (Hashim al-Nahas), Khairy Beshara's Tabib Fi-l-Aryaf / The Countryside Doctor (1975), Daoud Abd El-Sayed's Wasiyyat Rajul Hakim Fi Shu'un al-Qarya Wa-l-Ta'lim / The Advice oj a Wise Man in Matters of the Village and Education (1976) and 'Abd al-Mun'im 'Uthman's Fi-l-Mishmish / Never (1977) may be considered closest to the notion of 'direct cinema' on the ideological level, although not in technical terms.

The productions of the Film Centre involved all kinds of short films, including animation and children's films alongside documentaries. However, its output was irregular and inconsistent due to the constant changes of official guidelines, an unclear production policy and the lack of money and facilities. The Film Centre's reliance on old equipment and techniques has been an additional problem. Until the early 1990s, when the Film Centre shifted to include video production, documentaries were mainly shot on 35 mm film. Because of very tight budgets, film-makers usually had to use film stock at a ratio of 1:4, which hampered the development of a real direct cinema in the field of documentaries. Any acceptable film produced under these circumstances must be considered an achievement, notwithstanding its inevitable blemishes.

In spite of the Film Centre's unsteady production policy during the 1980s, there were nonetheless a number of interesting documentaries and short fiction films, such as Ahmad Qasim's Attiba' Fi-l-Madina (1981), Thulathiyyat Rafah / Rafah Trilogy (1982) and Suq al-Rijal / Men's Market (1991) by Husam 'Ali, Asma' al-Bakri's al-Burtri / The Portrait (1981), 'Awad Shukri's al-Tal'a / The Funeral (1982), Sami al-Salamuni's al-Sabah / The Morning (1983), 'Ali Badrakhan's 'Amm 'Abbas al-Mukhtari' / Uncle 'Abbas the Inventor (1985), Lu'b 'Iyal / Children's Games (1990) by Nabiha Lutfi and Shari' Qasr al-Nil / Qasr al-Nil Street (1993) by Fu'ad al-Tuhami, among others. Interesting historical documentaries furnished with a multitude of archival material were offered by Muhammad Kamil al-Qalyubi in Waqa'i' al-Zaman al-Dha'i': Muhammad Bayyumi / Chronicle of the Lost Time: Muhammad Bayyumi (1991) and Magdi 'Abd al-Rahman in Wasaya 'Ali Mubarak al-Bahira Fi Ahwal Misr Wa-l-Qahira / 'Ali Mubarak's Splendid Testimonies in Egypt's and Cairo's Conditions (1993).

Independent documentary film-making was for a long time more or less represented by a single person, 'Attiat al-Abnudi, who directed her first short Husan al- Tin / Horse of Mud in 1971 - a silent observation of women in the brick industry. She is one of the few directors who managed to finance her films either by herself or through co-production but without relying primarily on state institutions. She more over remained largely faithful to direct cinema, using only 16 mm and video cameras and laying great emphasis on direct observation and spontaneous interviews, as in her remarkable portrait of a farmer's wife al-Ahlam al-Mumkinna / Permissible Dreams ( 1982).

A kind of poetic documentarism was developed during the 1980s by the television director and cameraman 'Ali al-Ghazuli. Unlike al-Abnudi, al-Ghazuli's films were almost entirely staged, but reflected the lifestyle of the different regions he was depicting, such as the Sinai in Hakim Sant Katrin / The Saint Katherine Doctor (1987) or the northern salt-lakes in Sayd al-'Asari / Afternoon Fishing (1990). National Television had started documentary production in 1966, first through the Surveillance of Cinema Programmes ( muraqabat al-baramij al-sinima'iyya ) department and then, since 1975, through the General Surveillance of Documentary and produced during its first decade an average of ten films per year, largely for tourists.

In general, the Egyptian documentary of the 1990s shifted towards developmental topics, shot on video by an increasing number of women directors, dealing to a large extent with gender issues and financed by funds from development organizations: these include Nabiha Lutfi's Illa Ayn / Where? (1991) on female illiteracy and Taghrid al-'Asfuri's beautifully shot Arzaq / Daily Bread (1995) on small girls in the labour force. 'Attiat al-Abnudi's Ayam al-Dimuqratiyya / Days of Democracy (1998) is the most accomplished and least educational of these films, as it follows the campaigns of female candidates during the 1997 parliamentary elections.

Up until now, one of the most consistent Egyptian documentaries in form and content has been Yousri Nasrallah's full-length Sibyan Wa Banat / Apropos Boys, Girls and the Veil (1995), co-produced by French television. Dealing with the highly topical questions of gender relations among Egyptian youth and veiling, this video is charac terized by very high technical standards and is visually enriched by the director's experience with the mise-en-scene and continuity issues common to fiction films.

Almost no experimental cinema has developed in the Egyptian short film, with a few sporadic exceptions like Madkur Thabit's purely visual Thawrit al-Makann (1968) and some films realized at Chadi Abdessalam's Experimental Film Unit ( wahdat al-film al-tajribi ), a section of the National Film Centre founded in 1968. The short films produced by the Unit tended, with a few exceptions, to be documentaries. Their most important innovation was that they did not comment on the images, contrary to what has been considered until then obligatory to the Egyptian documentary. Now the image alone was supposed to be able to carry the crucial information. Therefore, film makers of the department (to which 'Atif al-Bakri, Samir 'Uf and Ibrahim al-Mugi belonged) were submitted to less restrictions in their consumption of raw stock than usual at the Centre. The most remarkable films from the Unit were Lu'lu'at al-Nil / Pearl of the Nile (1972) by Samir 'Uf and Afaq / Horizons (1973) by Abdessalam. In contrast, apart from Youssef Chahine's subjective essay on present-day Cairo, al-Qahira Minawarra Bi-Ahliha / Cairo Seen by Youssef Chahine (1991), only a few Egyptian narrative experimental films were produced.

The Egyptian short fiction film has remained even more in the shadow of the film industry and bureaucracy than the documentary. Although movie theatres are obliged by law to screen a short film before a full-length film, the distrihution of short films is circumvented or neglected. In general short fictions were. if al all. produced by the Nalional Film Centre -like, for example, Abdessalam's fiction al-Fallah al-Fasih / The Eloquent Peasant (l970), based on an ancient Egyptian text, or Hala Khalil's remarkable Tiri Ya Tayara / The Kite {1 996), about the adolescence of a girl.

During the last decades, the production of short fiction film has mainly been confined to graduation projects from the Higher Film Institute, exemplified by numerous promising works, such as Radwan al-Kashif's al-Janubiyya / Woman from the South (1984), Sandra Nash'at's Akhir Shita' / The Last Winter (1992), Hany Khalifa's 'Arabat al-Sayyidat / Ladies Only (l993), Sa'd Hindawi's Yawm al-Ahad al-‘Adi / Normal Sunday (1995) and Rasha al-Kurdi's Awal Mara / First Time (1998). Lately the new satellite channels (notably the Nile Thematic Channels) have also helped to revive the short film by airing and producing new works, like 'Alamat Abril / April Signs (1999) by Ahmad Mahir.

Like the fiction film, animation remained totally underdeveloped and marginalized. Nushi Iskandar, Rida Gibran and Ihab Shakir started their careers in the 1970s and tried to develop animation based on popular artforms. Only a few directors were able to distinguish themselves in that field by creating an individual style, primarily Munna Abu al-Nasr with al-Muntassir / The Victor (1989) and the graduation projects al-Sadd / The Dam (1990) by Sabir 'Aqid and Hakadha Tabdu / She Seems Like That (1993) by Rihab 'Adil Anwar.

Copyright page

First published 2001 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group © 2001 Oliver Leaman for selection and editorial materials; the contributors for individual chapters Typeset in Times by Routledge Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Companion encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African film I edited by Oliver Leaman. p. cm Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Motion pictures-Arab countries-Catalogs. 2. Motion pictures-Middle East-Catalogs. 3. Motion pictures-Africa, North-Catalogs. 4. Motion pictures-Arab countries-Biography-Dictionaries. 5. Motion pictures-Middle East-Biography-Dictionaries. 6. Motion pictures-Africa, North-Biography-Dictionaries. I. Leaman, Oliver, 1950- PN1993.5.A65 C66 2001 791.43'75'O956-dc21 00-068390 ISBN 0-415-18703-6
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