ALEXANDRIA AGAIN AND FOREVER (Iskanderija, kaman oue kaman)

(director/writer: Youssef Chahine; cinematographer: Ramses Marzouk; editor: Rashida Abdel-Salam; cast: Youssef Chahine (Yehia), Yousra (Amina Rizk), Hussein Fahmy (Stelio), Amr Abdel Guelil (Amr), Taheya Cariocca (Tahia), Menha Batraoui (Gigi), Yousra (Nadia), Zaki Abdel Wahab (Guindi); Runtime: 100; MISR International Films; 1990-Egypt)


“It is a zesty film adopting many different themes and styles, from Gene Kelly dance numbers to Fellini fantasy scenes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This pleasing film plays like a docudrama, with the director Youssef Chahine playing himself. It tells of when the award-winning Egyptian director won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival a decade earlier for his 1979 political film Alexandria Why?. He was the first Arab filmmaker to be honored with that award. This is the third in a trilogy (“An Egytian Story” – 1982 is the second) by Egypt’s most respected director.

The film opens as Chahine’s protege Amr (Amr Abdel Guelil) is adamant about not playing Hamlet in the third film he is working on with the director. Chahine looks upon the young actor as a younger version of himself, acting the same parts he played when he started in films. He feels Amr is an even better actor than he was, and therefore feels hurt that Amr is threatening to walk away from this part. He tells Amr the story of the greatest actor to play Hamlet, John Gielgud, and how he went to the star’s last performance as Hamlet in Cairo, in 1940, where Gielgud said it was time to pass the torch to a younger actor to play the part. Chahine said he was quite sure that Gielgud was talking to him in that performance, as he was a young man sitting intently in the audience filled with awe for the great actor.

How ruthless Chahine can be when at work is seen when he is directing Amr, trying to get out of him the best performance possible. There are numerous cuts in a simple one line scene, where the actor is forced into giving everything he has into that line and seems frustrated with the director for pushing so hard. Yet, when the shoot is over, Amr tells how kind and considerate the director could be when off the set.

During the film’s shooting, the director’s French wife Gigi (Batraoui) gets into a serious car accident and won’t be able to walk for 2 years. She tells her hubby to go back and finish the picture, as she has nurses to look after her. The director promises her if he wins the coveted Berlin Film Festival award, he will buy her a mink coat. When he wins in Berlin he goes into a song and dance number on a stage-set street, covered with fake snow. In the background the American song playing is ‘Walking My Baby Back Home.’ It reminded me of a Jacques Rivette musical, mixing reality and fantasy into a scene where you wouldn’t think it possible to do so.

Cahine goes on to make two more pictures in this film within a film. The scenes are colorfully shot on a studio location. It also shows him writing the script and directing the actors, as they go from song and dance numbers into serious acting sketches.

The film is dedicated to the Egyptian artists and their struggle for democracy and freedom in making films. The heart of the film shows him supporting the actors by going on strike with them as they all gather together to live in the union building and put their individual differences aside to form one voice. It shows the unique friendship he has with the obese actress Tahia (Taheya Cariocca), who initiated the strike by going on a fast. He also pleases Nadia (Yousra), whom he will choose as his Cleopatra. She is pleased that he joined the actors in their union strike, though she thinks he joined the strike to get back at Amr who deserted him. They strike up a curious relationship, both probing for the truth and art in their film and in their lives. The director tries to convince the attractive actress that Cleopatra had committed suicide by purposely having the snake bite her. He says she preferred that, rather than live to be dragged through the streets of Rome. He uses Shakespeare as his reference. But she disagrees with him, instead using her woman’s intuition as her source of knowledge.

The creative, political and personal struggles of the filmmaker were well-presented and superbly acted, in this imaginative and enchanting production. It is a zesty film adopting many different themes and styles, from Gene Kelly dance numbers to Fellini fantasy scenes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”