CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian film-maker Youssef Chahine, Arab cinema’s most celebrated director, died on Sunday aged 82 after several weeks in a coma, his friend and fellow director Khaled Yussef said.
“Youssef Chahine died this morning at 3:30,” said Yussef, who co-directed Chahine’s latest film “Chaos” in 2007.
A funeral ceremony will be held in Cairo on Monday, Yussef said, before Chahine is buried in the family crypt in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria where he was born, Egypt’s official MENA news agency said.
“He was one of the most important film-makers in the world, not just in the Arab world,” renowned Egyptian actor Nur al-Sherif told AFP after the death was announced, paying tribute to Chahine’s “different” style of cinema.
Chahine was flown back to Cairo on July 17 after a month-long stay in Paris where he underwent surgery after suffering a brain haemorrhage and falling into a coma. He was being cared for at the Maadi Military hospital in south Cairo.
Announcing the news, Egyptian state television showed archive images of the director and some of his films, which often targeted the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak promised to pay the director’s medical bills when he was taken ill, including paying for him to be flown to Paris, in “consideration of his involvement in the construction of Egyptian cinema.”
Director Daud Abd al-Sayyed called him “one of the the most important directors. He has films that are very important to the history of Egyptian cinema,” by far the most-watched in the Arab world.
Chahine won official plaudits for his pioneering role in Egypt’s film industry and was awarded the Cannes film festival’s 50th anniversary lifetime achievement award in 1997.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy swiftly paid tribute in a statement, calling Chahine “a fervent defender of freedom of expression and of individual and collective liberty generally.”
Chahine never shied away from controversy during his long career, criticising US foreign policy as well as Egypt and the Arab world.
Those who worked with him were quick to praise the man who inspired an entire generation of film-makers.
“Chahine was seen as one of the largest schools of Egyptian cinema,” said film critic Kamal Ramzi. “Everyone who worked with him learned a lot from his style and his style of work.”
Chahine made his first film in Egypt in 1950 and it was there that he also discovered and launched the career of Omar Sharif, who shot to international stardom with “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago.”
He claimed Cairo stopped subsidising his films after his 1973 cult movie “Al-Asfur” (The Bird) which attributed the Arab defeat in the 1967 war against Israel to corruption among the political classes at the time.
He also made three highly acclaimed films in the late 1990s — “Al-Muhajer” (The Emigrant), “Al-Masir” (Destiny) and “Al-Akhar” (The Other), which focused on tolerance and the distinction between Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.
Although his frenetic work pace slowed in recent years, Chahine in 2001 took part in demonstrations to defend the rights of Cairo farmers in the face of government efforts to appropriate their land.
His declaration at the time that “the enemy is not only outside, but also inside” summarised much of his cinematic opus.