Last Updated: July 31, 2008By

(BY SAÏDEH PAKRAVAN) Very few individuals are peerless, very few stand to represent an entire art form in some part of the world. Is Shakespeare the greatest writer who ever lived? Rembrandt the greatest painter? Cinema has a plethora of hugely talented directors, particularly in the West where the form was born. (Among these Western countries, Sweden is possibly the exception, with one single director, Ingmar Bergman, as undisputed master and everyone else far behind.) In other countries, less prolific, one name will generally define cinema. Say Senegal and Ousmane Sembene comes to mind. India has Satyajit Ray; even Japan, with its rich cinematic tradition, has Kurosawa (and Ozu, to be fair). And Egypt, of course, had Youssef Chahine. The film and theatre director who died in Cairo last Monday at age 82 after an exceptionally long career had been recognized early on. His 1951 Nile Boy earned him an invitation to the Cannes film Festival where in 1997 he received a lifetime achievement award. With a rich multicultural background—he was an Egyptian Christian born of a Greek mother and a father of Lebanese origin—he was an outspoken advocate of liberties, of democracy, and of tolerance. This attitude often put him at the centre of controversy and at odds with various authorities, particularly Egyptian ones. The segment he directed for the post 9/11 film, 11’9”1 excoriates the United States for its arrogance and sense of entitlement. His autobiographical quartet, which started with Alexandria… Why is a major part of his oeuvre. The 1985 Adieu Bonaparte is also a landmark. Chahine remained relevant to the end. The 2004 Cannes Festival saw Alexandria… New York. His last film was a thriller called Heya Fawda. Egypt and the world will miss this major figure.

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