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Youssef Chahine (1926-2008)

Sad news from Cairo where Youssef Chahine has passed on at the age of 82. Jo, as he was known to almost everyone who crossed his path, was a warm, delightful individual and an endlessly inventive filmmaker, whose unpredictable mixture of styles and tones remains one of the best arguments I know for an anti-theoretical, “impure” cinema. He worked in practically every genre known to man, from the historical epic to the personal testament, though I suspect he loved the mad world of Egyptian melodrama the best. A.O. Scott has a nice obituary in today’s Times, and Richard Pena has alerted me to a Chahine discussion board, here. Only half a dozen (and not necessarily the best) of Chahine’s more than forty feature films are available on DVD; it’s criminal that no one has come out with, at least, “Central Station,” the 1958 film that brought Chahine to European attention. It’s a classic noir with an Arab twist, starring Chahine himself as a handicapped newspaper peddler hopelessly in love with the sultry lemonade seller (Hind Rostom) who works with him at the main Cairo train station. And there are many, many more where it came from . . .

6 comments to Youssef Chahine (1926-2008)

  • Blake Lucas

    Isn’t that film called “Cairo Station?” I was just reading about something about it and wishing I could see it, because I never have. It’s a shame it’s not on DVD. A Chahine retro would be
    most welcome here in L.A.

    Dave, you were quoted most admiringly on Chahine in L.A. Times obituary and I expected to open your blog today and see his picture along with some comments from you…

  • Joe

    Actually, Blake, I believe that Cachine’s “Bab el hadid” is known as both “Cairo Station” and “Central Station” in the states. It’s also been referred to as “Cairo: Central Station.” “Central Station,” of course, is also the English title of the 1998 Walter Salles film with Fernanda Montenegro and Marília Pêra. A meaningful loss.

  • jwarthen

    If only a half-dozen of Chahine’s films can be seen on DVD here, one of them is 1997’s DESTINY, which turned up at my rental-shop a year after its NYFF showing. A period political drama with epic superstructure, it also manages to be delightful, with piquant characters and a compelling expansive warmth. Just checked– NetFlix doesn’t offer it– but it’s out there and worth a long search.

  • Hopefully this will prod one of our more innovative programmers (Kent?) to begin work on a memorial retrospective, as we’ve had recently with Robbe-Grillet (in Brooklyn) and Edward Yang (in Toronto, and when is that coming to the US?!). And at the risk of sounding morbid, could somebody go ahead and start work on the posthumous retro for the now 98 year-old Kaneto Shindo? Seems like a safe bet. Tks!

    I just watched Barbet Schroeder’s “Terror’s Advocate,” and on doing some reading about its subjects, realized that Chahine made a film (in 1958) about Djamila Bouhired, the beautiful terrorist who’s a major figure in Schroeder’s film and “The Battle of Algiers.” I’d love to see that.

  • martin stollery

    Dave, I’ve enjoyed your past writing on Chahine. Let’s hope one small consolation for his passing is more distributors and critics promoting his work so more people in Europe and America can actually see it.

  • Alex

    Just found this wonderful page while doing online research for “Cairo Station.” We’ll be releasing the 1958 Chahine classic on DVD in the first half of 2009, but in the meantime we’re bringing a Chahine Film Retrospective to cinemas and museums throughout North America. more info at

    Alex O. Williams
    Typecast Releasing – Seattle, WA . USA