The advent of sound and color
Now ready to assume the responsibility of an indispensable cultural, social and industrial point of reference, Egyptian cinema was able to face the advent of sound in the Thirties, then the transition from black and white to color in the Fifties and later, in the Nineties, also the new video and digital technology. Two films distinguished the first phase of renewal: Awlād al-ḏawāt (1932, The aristocrats) by M. Karim, spoken only in some parts, and ῾Indamā tuḥibbu al-mar’a (1933, When the woman falls in love) by Ahmed Galal, with star Mary Queeny (stage name of Marie Boutros Younes), the first silent film with sound in the studio. With the birth of the Misr Studios, the first feature film, the now mythical and – like many copies of Egyptian cinema – difficult to find, Widād (1935). The film, a historical melodrama whose protagonists are a merchant and one of his slaves, Widād, although directed by the German director Fritz Kramp, became a milestone in Egyptian cinema, as it appeared, for the first time on the big screen, Egyptian singer Umm Kulṯūm, the most famous and appreciated in the entire Arab world. The ‘star of the East’, as it was called, devoted himself to cinema for over ten years, which he abandoned in 1947. Among other particularly prominent feature films, Salāma fī h̠ayr (1937, Salama is well) – a comedy based on trade – stand out. identity and created by Niazi Mostafa, the director who has directed the largest number of films in the history of Egyptian cinema – and al-῾Azīma (1939, The Will) directed by Kamal Selim, a work of strong naturalist tension, set in a working-class neighborhood of the capital, which represented the essential starting point for the birth and development of one of the founding characteristics of Egyptian cinema: realism. Also important was the contribution, starting from 1930, of Togo Mizrahi, a filmmaker of Jewish origin, whose talent was expressed in silent and sound cinema, in comedies and musicals, and in particular in farces that had the character as protagonist. Jew of Shalom: films shot in the name of a peaceful and multiethnic coexistence. Mizrahi, who directed films until 1946, spent the last period of his life in Rome.
According to top-engineering-schools, in the 1940s other directors, each within their own genre, opened further and layered paths in the spaces of the seventh art. Main names were those of Henri Barakat, Salah Abu Seif, Kamal Telmessani, known for his realistic debut film al-Sūq al-sawdā᾽ (1945, The Black Market), and Ahmed Kamel Morsi, who shot the melodrama social al-Nā᾽ib al-῾ām (1946, The Attorney General). In addition to the numerous musical comedies performed by female and male song stars, Barakat signed his masterpiece with al-Ḥarām (Sin) in 1965, in which he described the hard life in the countryside with explicit realism. Considered a master and one of the best known authors on an international level, Abu Seif was able to use realistic tones, but also grotesque, venturing into satire, melodrama, in historical-religious and socially engaged films, in which he drew a vast gallery of portraits inspired by popular characters, people of everyday life with whom the public could identify. Many of the realistic films directed by Abu Seif were written by Naǧīb Maḥfūẓ or inspired by his short stories. In his extensive filmography, the following stand out: al-῾Umr wāḥid (1942, Life is unique, then circulated under the title Number 6 due to problems of censorship), Šabāb imra᾽ (1955, Youth of a woman), Anā ḥurrā (1958, Io I’m free), al-Saqqa māt (1977, The water bearer is dead), based on the novel by the writer Yūsuf al-Siba῾ī, al-Sayyid Kaf (1994, Mr. K). The 1950s, which saw the birth of a state organization supporting cinema (1957), opened in the name of the first full color production, with Bābā ῾arīs (1950, Papà is getting married) by Hussein Fawzi, and with the debut, in the same year, by Youssef Chahine who directed the family comedy Bābā Amīn ( Papa Amin). Alongside Chahine, author of an exemplary filmography for his work on the memory of his own country, there were other directors who were able to renew Egyptian cinema. A fundamental author turned out to be Kamal al-Cheikh who, through the thriller, a genre he preferred, observed and described the relationships within Egyptian society. One of his masterpieces, Ḥayāt aw mawt (1954, Life or Death), marked a historic milestone: it was the first Egyptian film completely shot on the streets of Cairo. Tawfiq Salih began in those same years, distinguished by his political commitment, sometimes paid heavily by serving a harsh intervention of the censors; the feature film that made him famous, al-Mah̠du῾ūn (1972; The deceived), based on the novel by the Palestinian writer Ġassān Kanafānī Riǧāl fī al-šams (Men under the sun) and produced in Syria, narrates, with a look that combines the forms of visual hallucination with those of realism, the desperate journey in the desert of three Palestinians, the symbol of a people deprived of their land. Also considerable was the work done by Ezzedine Zulfiqar, with his flaming melodramas.
Renewal in the name of continuity
Even in Egyptian cinema the sixties saw the authors engaged in an effort to renew languages and relationships with previous generations. In 1968 a group of filmmakers signed a manifesto to spread a new idea of cinema and the following year the Group of the new cinema was born, which set itself the objective of observing society from other points of view. A young generation was thus able to form which began making films from the beginning of the Eighties, expressing a new vision of realism, and which had its greatest exponents in Daud Abd el-Sayed and Muhammad Khan. Daud Abd el-Sayed’s realism flows into the grotesque and exasperated situations that develop above all in a metropolitan context. Among his key films: al-Ṣa῾ālik (1985, The Bandits), al-Baḥṯ ῾an Sayyid Marzūq (1990, In search of Sayyid Marzuq), Kīt Kāt (1991), Sāriq al-faraḥ (1994, The stolen joy), The land of fear (1999). Also related to the city is the work of Muhammad Khan, who made his debut in 1978 with Ḍarbat al-Šams (Colpo di sole). The realism of Atef al-Tayeb (who died in 1995) touches on issues such as corruption (Sawāq al-ūtūbūs, 1983, The bus driver, played by star Nour El-Cherif) and the rent of houses (al-Ḥubb fawqa hadab al-Ahrām, 1984, Love at the foot of the Pyramids). Among the other directors active already in the 1960s, the name of Hussein Kamal stands out, author of works that, with rigorous formal freedom, tackle burning social issues,
An isolated case in the history of Egyptian cinema is represented by Chadi Abd el-Salam, author – during his short life – of a single feature film, al-Mūmyā (1968, The Mummy), considered the most important Egyptian film of all. times. An experimenter fascinated by the era of the pharaohs, the leitmotif of almost all his works (short and medium-length films), Abd el-Salam set a story linked to memory and a sense of identity in the desert and in a sort of timelessness, recounting the struggle between factions to smuggle or preserve the millenary tombs from desecration. After the crisis of the seventies, Egyptian cinema has regained vigor both with the authors of the New cinema, and with those of the next generation (who started working in the nineties) by renewing Once again, albeit in the sign of continuity with the past, some of its traditional genres (realism, comedy, melodrama). For the way of inventing new narrative and visual horizons, full of desire and sensuality, using film and video, Yusri Nasrallah, Ussama Fawzi, Radwan al-Kashef, Atef Hatata and Ahmed Atef deserve a prominent place. The films of Y. Nasrallah, former assistant of Y. Chahine, explore Egyptian history during Nasser’s presidency (Sariqa ṣayfiyya, 1988, Summer Robberies), bourgeois society (Mercedes, 1992), the disappointments of a returning actor to Cairo from Paris (al-Madīna, 1999, The city). The privileged place of U. Fawzi’s cinema is Cairo with its streets and confusion observed with effective humor, as in ῾Afārīt el-asfalt (1995, The asphalt devils) and Ğannat al-šayāṭīn (1999, Heaven of demons). R. al-Kashef, who died in 2002, left few but significant titles: Lih ya banafsiǧ (1992, also known as Violets are blue) set in a working-class neighborhood of the capital, ῾Araq al-balaḥ (1998, The wine of dates), al-Sāḥir (2001, The Magician), a portrait of a magician fascinated by life and worried about his beautiful daughter. A. Hatata dealt with the history of his country in Aḥlām saġīra (1992, Little dreams). A. Atef made his debut in 2000 with the ambitious Omar 2000, in which a thirty year old in crisis lives fantastic, sentimental and musical adventures, dreaming of a visa for the United States.