Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Sunday, 27 July 2008 12:05 UK

Egyptian film legend Chahine dies

Youssef Chahine
Chahine was one of Arab cinema's most respected figures

Egyptian film director Youssef Chahine has died in Cairo aged 82, four weeks after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

One of Arab cinema's most admired figures, he made his first film in 1950 and tackled authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in his work.

Chahine also had a loyal following in France, and was given the lifetime achievement award at Cannes in 1997.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Chahine "a fervent defender of freedom of expression".

Chahine was flown to Paris for treatment following his haemorrhage, but returned to Cairo 10 days ago.

His last film, This Is Chaos, was released earlier this year. Colleague Khaled Youssef had to finish it off because of the director's ill health.

"He was one of the most important film-makers in the world, not just in the Arab world," Egyptian actor Nur al-Sherif told Agence France Presse.

Chahine's early films like Cairo: Central Station dealt with sexual morality, a daring theme for its time, and during his career he attracted the anger of both religious and political forces in Egypt.

But his career survived the nationalisation of the country's film industry under President Nasser, and his film The Sparrow was critical of Egypt's leadership at the time of the Six Day War in 1967.

Chahine carried on producing work critical of Egypt's leaders, and made a series of films centred on his home city of Alexandria, recounting his childhood, his love of early Hollywood and his ambiguous feelings towards the United States. He had studied in California in the 1940s.

In his later career, censorship was a theme close to his heart, and he also became a prominent opponent of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

In 1994, his film The Emigrant was banned by a court because its plot was based on the story of Joseph, found in the Bible and Koran. The depiction of prophets is banned in most interpretations of Islam.

"Every day human beings suffer a lot from people telling you to shut up, you have no right to talk, you have no right to discuss," Chahine said.

"I think this is extreme violence, and it happened to me."

Chahine is survived by his French wife Colette. A funeral ceremony will be held in Cairo on Monday, ahead of his burial in Alexandria.


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