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Antti Alanen: Film Diary:

Iskanderija... lih? / Alexandria... Why? (restored by Association Youssef Chahine)

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Iskanderija... lih? / Alexandria... Why? إسكندرية ليه ‎ / Alexandrie pourquoi? / Alessandria perché?     Director: Youssef Chahine. Year: 1978. Country: Egypt. Sog., Scen.: Youssef Chahine, Mohsen Zayed. F.: Mohsen Nasr. M.: Rachida Abdel Salam. Scgf.: Nehad Bahgat, Abdel Fattah Madbouly. Mus.: Fouad El-Zaheri.     Int.: Naglaa Fathi (Sarah), Ahmed Zaki (Ibrahim), Mohsen Mohieddine (Yahia), Moshena Tawfiq (Mohsen), Farid Chawki (il padre di Mohsen), Mahmoud El-Meligui (Qadri), Ezzat El-Alaili (Shaker), Gerry Sundquist (Thomas ‘Tommy’ Friskin), Yehia Chahine, Leila Faouzi.     Prod.: MISR International Films, O.N.C.I.C.. DCP. D.: announced: 125’ , in reality: 133'. Col.     Theme tune: "Perfidia" (Alberto Domínguez, 1939). "Vltava" (from Má vlast) by Bedřich Smetana. "Rhapsody in Blue" (George Gershwin, 1924). "In the Mood" (Glenn Miller, 1939). "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) the White Cliffs of Dover" (comp. Walter Kent, lyr. Nat Burton) perf. Vera Lynn (1941), "Moonlight Serenade" (Glenn Miller, 1939).     Not released in Finland.     Restored by Association Youssef Chahine in collaboration with MISR International Films at Aura laboratory from a dupe negative.     Copy from MISR International Films.     Arab version with English subtitles.     Youssef Chahine – The Last Arab Optimist.     Introduce Marianne Khoury (MISR International).     Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra, 25 June 2019. Teffik Hakem: "Along with Bab al-hadid, this is Youssef Chahine’s other masterpiece and the first ever autobiographical movie to come out of the Arab world. Yahia, a 16-year-old boy obsessed with Hollywood movies wants to act. At school, everyone notices the furious energy with which he performs Shakespeare’s great lines. And it’s his story that lies at the heart of this bittersweet chronicle of growing up in cosmopolitan Alexandria during WWII, which combines several genres." "Iskanderija… lih? stands as the first part of a four-part autobiography, be­side Hadduta misrija (An Egyptian Story), Iskanderija kaman ove kaman (Alexandria Again and Forever) e Iskanderija… New York (Alexandria… New York). This great film is also remembered as marking the start of Chahine’s emotional connection with a young actor, Mohsen Mohieddine. When it was released, it was banned by almost every Arab country who felt the director supported Sadat’s American-influenced Camp David agreement policies, including recognising Israel. But perhaps other, less publicly acknowledgeable motives lay behind the ban, first among which might be the first explicit reference to homosexuality in Arab cinema. In this unbelievably brave film, an Arab nationalist activist falls in love with the British soldier whom he is meant to be keeping hostage. The film combines archival material and drama, musical comedy and historical chronicle, intimate confession and epic scenes. Iskanderija… lih? is both his most personal and the most successful of all his films." Tewfik Hakem AA: I had been especially looking forward to Alexandria... Why? in the Youssef Chahine retrospective, the opening film of his autobiographical quadrilogy. My first impression was a disappointment in the heavy video look of the presentation. Several of the main actors are not terribly compelling. The period reconstruction often fails to convince. This is a multi-lingual film, but the English spoken does not always sound right even when we are supposed to hear native speakers. To sum up: I had the impression of an ambitious period film project with a budget not big enough for the purpose. I was also thinking about other films seen in the festival, such as Napoli milionaria which covers the same time period but of course made soon after the period depicted: shot on location, the milieux still looked convincingly the same. In his other films Chahine is an assured storyteller, not here. Alexandria... Why? is a Bildungsroman partially based on classical narrative, partially on avantgarde passages. Critics have evoked Fellini, but Chahine is no Fellini. Nevertheless, Alexandria... Why? gives a lot to think about. It takes place in cosmopolitan Alexandria, the city of Chahine's childhood and youth until 1948, the fatal year in the Middle East when everything changed. In Chahine's childhood, five languages were spoken in his family. The broad, international view reminds us of Egypt's magnificent past as the first truly international empire in history during the ancient times, and facing conquerors such as Alexander the Great in the Hellenic times, Napoléon, and the British Empire. During the film, the battles of El Alamein are being fought, Britain defeating the Nazis about to take over Alexandria. There are Arab activists looking forward to a Nazi victory and to even assassinate Churchill to get rid of British imperialists. In the growing-up of story of Yahia (Mohsen Mohieddine) a highlight is his Shakespeare audition, how he puts his soul into the mother scene of Hamlet. The schoolboys' parody play of the political situation, spoofing Nazis, brings to my mind the Finn Mikko Niskanen's Pojat / The Boys with a similar scene, set in the year 1942 in Oulu, a major harbour city for Nazi Germany, as Alexandria would have become. During his time as a student at the Victoria School, Chahine with his friends produces a big cabaret show which becomes a total fiasco. The female characters are complex and intelligent; the female roles are well written and performed. Alexandria... Why? has the distinction of being the first Arab film to portray a homosexual relationship. The account of the affair between a British soldier and an Arab man is frank, violent and unusual: the original intention of the Arab is to kill the Brit. But the encounter turns into a true love affair, and in a later moment of the story we see the Arab crying on the Brit's grave in the El Alamein War Cemetery. Gerry Sundquist (a Manchester-born Brit despite his Swedish name) is convincing in this role. "The White Cliffs of Dover" is heard on the soundtrack, sung by Vera Lynn. Chahine also surprises us with a deeply felt account of a Jewish-Arabic romance blossoming during the crisis of El Alamein. The great actress Naglaa Fathi plays Sarah, the Jewish girl who falls in love with the Muslim Communist Ibrahim (Ahmed Zaki) and becomes pregnant with his baby. Meanwhile, the Jews of Alexandria have their luggage packed in case of a Nazi victory. The founding of the State of Israel in 1948 changes everything in Alexandria. Sephardi Jews have lived for centuries in peace in the Arab world, having been rescued by Muslims from the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. But now it is time to move on, as Sarah's father is an ardent Zionist. Alexandria... Why? is a mess, a sloppily made film, surprisingly for Chahine, who was a professional from the beginning. But it is also one of his most exciting films. I'd love to see it with Arab and Jewish audiences, to make sense of all the references. The theme tune is the slow bolero "Perfidia" (1939) by Alberto Domínguez. The piece is also heard in Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (and his whole trilogy), Casablanca, and Now, Voyager. The duration was announced as 125 minutes, but on display was the standard 133 minutes version.

Avainsanat: david covers country cosmopolitan comedy cinema characters change changed chahine century case by budget british boy born bologna big scenes sarah romance role released relationship reality professional political poika piece personal period oulu old negative nazi napoli napoleon muslimi muslim movie mother moment miller mikko material marianne manchester make major main lines leila laboratory kill jewish italia it israel hollywood history heavy heard hear harbour hadid germany genre friends frank four finland film festival female ever energy actors actor act beginning become baby aura alexandrie alexander alberto ahmed affair empire egyptian egypt east director despite sub student spanish soundtrack sound soul smetana slow show shot shakespeare several sense school york write world who war walter voyager view video victoria vera truly takes subtitles