5 - 11 August 1999
Issue No. 441
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
Laureis for a prodigal auteur
LAST SATURDAY, at the opening of the fifth NFEC, tribute was paid to several towering figures in the medium's history, namely veteran director Tawfiq Saleh, actress Samira Ahmed, editor Rashida Abdel-Salam and documentary film-maker Ali El-Ghazouli. The opening ceremony of the festival included the screening of Hadith Al-Samt (Silence Talks), Ali El-Ghazouli's latest documentary, and Tawfiq Saleh's Sera' Al-Abtal (Heroic Battle), produced in 1962-- a wistful reminder of the kind of quality films Egypt's cinema once produced.
Tawfiq Saleh's career took off 45 years ago, following his return from France, where he studied filmmaking. While he cannot be described as a prolific filmmaker, he is undoubtedly an auteur to whom credit should go for a number of seminal films. In the 45 years since his return he directed some eight films, the last of which was produced almost 20 years ago. It was his directorial debut, Darb El-Mahabil (Alley of the Mad People), that established Saleh's name as an innovative director.
His second and third films -- Sira' Al-Abtal and Al-Mutamarridoun (The Rebels, 1968) -- both expressed searing criticism of the shortcomings of the 1952 July Revolution which, from Saleh's radical standpoint, had fallen short of the desired revolutionary ideals. Naturally both films encountered problems with censorship. In 1969, uncharacteristically, Saleh produced two films, Yawmiyat Na'ib fi Al-Aryaf (Diary of a Country Attorney) and Zoqaq Al-Sayed Al-Bolti (The Alley of Bolti), which failed miserably at the box-office.
The early 1970s found the disillusioned director leaving the country altogether. First he took residence in Syria, where he produced one of his finest films, Al-Makhdu'oun (The Deceived) based on Ghassan Kanafani's novel Men Under the Sun. From Syria, Saleh moved to Iraq, where he taught at the Cinema Academy in Baghdad and produced a film about the early life of Saddam Hussein, Al-Ayyam Al-Tawila (Long Days, 1980).
Saleh's problem was that his big dreams seldom found the producers to back them with the necessary funding. In the making of his last film, which was financed by the Iraqi regime, Saleh learned the hard way that funding always comes with strings attached, and often to the detriment of the cinematic quality he aspired to. For 20 years now, many producers have been trying to lure Saleh back to the cinema. He says, "They want me back behind the camera, but under their own conditions, There is nothing in such a comeback for me as an artist."
UP and comming in Locarno
THE LOCARNO International Film Festival, held annually in Switzerland since 1947, has been unique among a highly selective handful of widely acclaimed cinematic events (Variety named it "one of the top six festivals" in its prestigious International Film Guide) in that it encourages and promotes the work of lesser-known film-makers from the four corners of the earth, supporting experimentation and difference.
In this, the 52nd round of Locarno, two Egyptian films by relatively new, if scathingly original, filmmakers, have made it to the official competition, confirming the idea that inventive work, even when it forgoes the often restrictive conditions of box-office success, can and will receive its due share of recognition. Youssri Nasrallah's latest feature (see Profile), Al-Madina (The City), is the story of a young man from the Rod Al-Farag vegetable market and his overriding desire to become an actor, which leads him all the way to France, where he realises, finally, that all cities are ultimately the same and that the city within one's heart -- one's deepest fears and desires -- will follow one wherever one goes. On the other hand script-writer Mustafa Zikri and director Osama Fawzi's second collaboration, Gannat Al-Shayatin (The Devils' Paradise), depict, in Zikri and Fawzi's trademark magic realism, the fortunes of a group of down-and-out young men whose leader has suddenly and shockingly died. Following on their remarkable and well-received debut, Afareet Al-Asfalt (Asphalt Demons), Fawzi and Zikri's second film is based on a novel by Brazil's most celebrated writer, Jorge Amado.