Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Our lady of the screen

Obituary: Faten Hamama (1931-2015)

Named the Lady of the Arab Screen by the media and the press, the phenomenally popular actress Faten Hamama, having made no appearances since 2000, died last Saturday, leaving behind a filmography spanning six decades and including over 200 films. Hamama’s last role was that of  Ibtisam Al-Bustani in Adel Al-Aasar’s television series 2000 Wagh Al-Qamar (Moon Face), her last film having been Dawoud Abdel-Sayed’s 1993 Ard Al-Ahlam (The Land of Dreams). He career actually goes all the way back to 1939.

Born in Abdine, Cairo, Faten Hamama grew up in Daqahliya where her father was an education ministry official. It was he who — on reading a newspaper casting call for a child actress published by the famous director Mohamed Karim and the then young composer-singer Mohamed Abdel-Wahab — sent a picture of his daughter to the advertised address and thus launched Hamama’s career with Yom Said (Happy Day, 1939). Hamama recalled that she agreed to be paid LE1 for her role, in addition to sandwiches and chocolate, but that Mohamed Karim then raised the figure to LE5.

Through the 1940s she appeared in a string of social melodramas. In Hassan Al-Imam’s 1946 box office hit Al-Yatimatan (The Two Orphans), for example, she played one of two orphaned young women trying to fend for themselves on the death of their father, and it was thanks in part to her innocent face and winning smile that, from then on she mastered the character of the lower middle class young woman, capturing the hearts and minds of the Egyptian audience, and reflecting social transformations that were taking place in the wake of the 1919 revolution.

Through the 1930s the middle class had been emerging and expanding alongside the cinematic infrastructure, with the national studios ushering in the golden age, and Hamama was the embodiment not only of the positive change, as the (lower) middle class young woman with enough ambition and acumen to transcend the limitations of her birth and achieve a higher social status, but also of the new ideas and psychological complexities that informed such a character.

In the 1950s and 1960s, with the tide of realistic cinema on the rise, Hamama continued to play the same kind of role but in less melodramatic films. Already a star, she now played a newly emancipated lower middle class young woman, with access to education and opportunities for self development, the conflict she must face no longer impossible. This was as much a reflection of the July 1952 revolution — itself less a radical transformation than the climax of a decades-long conflict between the ruling elite and the slowly emerging middle class — as mirror of social and cultural as well as political developments.

Hamama could even contribute to the Arab-Israeli conflict in Ahmad Badrakhan’s 1948 Allah Ma’ana (God be with us), but the two more important films from a political point of view were Salah Abu-Seif’s La Waqta lil Hobb (No time for love, based on a Youssef Edriss short story) and Henry Barakat’s adaptation of Latifa Al-Zayyat’s The Open Door, both released in 1963. Dealing with the British occupation and the national struggle for independence, these were politically progressive films for their times, and Hamama proved equally convincing as the agent of political change.

Hamama also played key roles in feminist films, the best known of which is Said Marzouk’s 1975 Uridu Hallan (I want a solution), written by Saadeddin Wahba and based on a story by the journalist Hossn Shah. The film dealt with a woman’s inability to secure a divorce against her husband’s will, and it proved pivotal in the parliament passing amendments in the personal status law at the time. Other remarkable contributions to women’s issues included Henry Barakat’s 1971 Al-Khait Al-Rafi’ (The Thin Line) and Hussein Kamal’s 1972 Embratoriyet Meim (Empire M), based on a novel by Ihsan Abdel-Quddous. The first dealt with love out of wedlock, the second with the struggles of the working mother facing a new and markedly different generation of children.

Hamama’s television appearances were understandably rather more conservative, comprising engaging narratives spiked with moralising. As the schoolteacher in Inaam Mohamed Ali’s 1991 Damir Abla Hikmat (Ms Hikmat’s Conscience), Hamama proved her adaptability. In the same way she dealt with a range of social, political and moral issues, including the second Palestinian Intifada, in her last acting performance, as the television anchor Ibtisam Al-Bustani.

Hamama’s films were often of the highest aesthetic standards. Youssef Chahine’s 1954 Struggle in the Valley, for example, was nominated for the jury prize at the Cannes Festival; Henry Barakat’s 1960 adaptation of the “Dean of Arabic Literature” Taha Hussein’s The Nightingale’s Prayer was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlinale; Barakat’s 1965 Youssef Edriss adaptation The Sin was nominated for the Cannes Festival’s Palm d’Or; so was Kamal Al-Sheikh’s 1964 thriller The Last Night was nominated for. In the same year Hamama received the best actress prize for her role in The Open Door at the Jakarta Film Festival.



Youm Said (Happy Day, 1940)

Rosasa Fil Qalb (A Bullet in the Heart, 1944)

Awel Al-Shahr (The Beginning of the Month, 1945)

Donia (1946)

Malak Al-Rahma (The Angel of Mercy, 1946)

Al-Hanim (The Lady, 1946)

Al-Qena’ Al-Ahmar (The Red Mask, 1947)

Nour Min Al-Samaa (Light from the Sky, 1947)

Mal’ika fi Gohanam (Angels in Hell, 1947)

Kinz Al-Saada (Treasure of Happiness, 1947)

Al-Malak Al-Abyad (The White Angel, 1947)

Abu Zeid Al-Hilali (1947)

Kholoud (Immortality, 1948)

Kanat Malakan (She was an Angel, 1948)

Haya Ha’ira (A Complicated Life, 1948)

Al-Millionaira Al-Saghira (The Little Millionaire, 1948)

Al-Ikab (The Punishment, 1948)

Korsi Al-I’teraf (Confession Chair, 1949)

Sett Al-Beit (Lady of the House, 1949)

Naho Al-Magd (To the Glory, 1949)

Kol Beit Laho Ragol (Each House Has it’s Man, 1949)

Al-Yatimatan (The Two Orphans, 1949)

Al-Halaqa Al-Mafqouda (The Missing Link, 1949)

Zalamouni Al-Nass (1949)

Bayoumi Effendi (1950)

Baba Amin (Father Amin, 1950)

Khada’ni Abi (Tricked by My Father, 1951)

Wadaan Ya Gharami (Goodbye My Love, 1951)

Ibn Al-Nil (Son of the Nile, 1951)

Ibn Al-Halal (Good Guy, 1951)

Ana Bint Nass (I’m Well Raised, 1951)

Al-Ustaza Fatma (The Lawyer Fatma, 1952)

Zaman Al-Ajab (Time of Miracles, 1952)

Men Aaraq Gabini (By the Sweat My Brow, 1952)

Lak Youm Ya Zalem (Your Day Will Come, 1952)

Is’alo Qalbi (Ask My Heart, 1952)

Al-Zohour Al-Fatina (Charming Flowers, 1952)

Al-Manzel Raqam 13 (House Number 13, 1952)

Kass Al-Azab (The Cup of Torture, 1952)

Asrar Al-Nas (People’s Secrets, 1952)

Ashki Li Meen (To Whom I Complain, 1952)

Al-Moharej Al-Kabir (The Great Clown, 1952)

Lahn Al-Kholoud (Immortality Song, 1953)

Abeed Al-Mal (Slaves of Money, 1953)

Hob Fi Al-Zalam (Love in the Dark, 1953)

Amwal Al-Yatama (The Orphans Money, 1953)

Aisha (1953)

Athar Ala Al-Remal (Traits on Sand, 1954)

Siraa Fil Wadi (Struggle in the Valley, 1954)

Maw’ed Ma’ Al-Haya (Appointment with Life, 1954)

Qoloub Al-Nass (People’s Hearts, 1954)

Al-Malak Al-Zalem (The Unjust Angel, 1954)

Dayman Maak (Always with You, 1954)

Bint Al-Hawa (Daughter of Love, 1954)

Baad Al-Wadaa (After Farewell, 1954)

Maw’ed Maa Al-Saada (Appointment with Happiness, 1955)

Irham Demo’y (Pity My Tears, 1955)

Ayamna Al-Hilwa (Our Happy Days, 1955)

Allah Maana (God Be With Us, 1955)

Maw’ed Gharam (Love Date, 1956)

Siraa Fil Mina (Struggle in the Pier, 1956)

Hob wa Demou’ (Love and Tears, 1956)

La Anam (Sleepless, 1957)

Lan Abki Abadan (I’ll Never Cry, 1957)

Al-Qalb Laho Ahkam (The Heart Has its Reasons, 1957)

Ard Al-Salam (Land of Peace, 1957)

Tariq Al-Amal (The Road of Hope, 1958)

Al-Tariq Al-Masdoud (The Blocked Road, 1958)

Hatta Naltaki (Till We Meet, 1958)

Al-Zawja Al-Azraa (The Virgin Wife, 1958)

Doaa Al-Karawan (The Nightingale’s Prayer, 1959)

Sayedet Al-Qasr (Lady of the Castle, 1959)

Bein Al-Atlal (Amid the Ruins, 1959)

Nahr Al-Hob (Love River, 1961)

Al-Mo’geza (The Miracle, 1962)

La Toutfe’ Al-Shams (The Sun Will Never Set, 1962)

Laan A’taref (I Won’t Confess, 1962)

Cairo (1963)

La Waqt Lel Hob (No Time for Love, 1963)

Al-Leila Al-Akhira (The Last Night, 1964)

Al-Bab Al-Maftouh (The Open Door, 1964)

Al-E’teraf (The Confession, 1965)

Hekayet Al-Omr Kolo (Story of a Whole Life, 1965)

Al-Haram (The Sin, 1965)

Shee’ fi Hayaty (Something in My Life, 1966)

Al-Hob Al-Kebeir (Big Love, 1969)

Al-Kheir Al-Rafie’ (The thin Yarn, 1971)

Remal Min Thahab (Golden Sands, 1971)

Embratoriyet Meim (Empire M, 1972)

Oghnyet Al-Mout (Death Song, 1973)

Oryedo Hallan (I Want a Solution, 1975)

Habibati (My Love, 1975)

Afwah wa Araneb (Mouths and Rabbits, 1977)

Walla Azaa Lel Sayedat (No Mourning for Women, 1979)

Hekaya wara kol Bab (A Tale Behind Every Door, 1979)

Leilet Al-Qabd Ala Fatma (The Night of Arresting Fatma, 1984)

Youm Mor..Youm Helw (A Bitter Day..A Good Day, 1988)

Ard Al-Ahlam (Land of Dreams, 1993)

Dameer Abla Hekmat (The Conscience of Mrs. Hekmat, TV series, 1994)

Wagh Al-Qammar (Face of the Moon, TV series, 2000)

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