Cairo Station

Drama and Desire: Celebrating the Films of Egyptian Master Youssef Chahine at BFI Southbank

BFI Southbank has announced a major season celebrating the work of Egyptian master filmmaker Youssef Chahine (1926-2008), one of the most influential Egyptian filmmakers who made a significant impact on Arab cinema over a career that spanned more than half a century.

The month-long event, which launches on July 3, 2023, will span his vast and eclectic career that often depicted the lives of ordinary Egyptians. It’s curated by writer, translator, producer, and curator Elhum Shakerifar, and presented in partnership with SAFAR Film Festival and the Ciné Lumière.

Chahine directed his first film, “Baba Amin,” in 1950, and went on to produce more than 40 films. His work often explored complex social, political, and personal themes, including class struggle, repressed sexuality, and political corruption. He was not afraid to critique his society and was known for his bold and controversial storytelling choices.

One of his most acclaimed works, “Cairo Station” (1958) — misunderstood at the time of its release but has since been recognized as a classic of Arab cinema — was selected as the Egyptian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 31st Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.

Nevertheless, Chahine received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the Cannes Film Festival’s 50th Anniversary Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Despite facing censorship and controversy in his home country, he remained a prolific and influential figure in cinema until his death in 2008. His legacy continues to inspire filmmakers in Egypt and beyond.

The full program, separated by theme, follows.

Courtesy of BFI Southbank


This section showcases Chahine’s Alexandria trilogy, which are semi-autobiographical, playful, and reflexive films that explore his personal and professional life. Chahine was born in Alexandria, Egypt.

  • ALEXANDRIA… WHY? (1978): A teenager dreams of studying cinema during the Second World War.
  • AN EGYPTIAN STORY (1982): A director undergoes open-heart surgery and dreams of a surreal courtroom scenario.
  • ALEXANDRIA AGAIN AND FOREVER (1989): An aging director struggles with writer’s block and falls in love with a star actor.

This section features Chahine’s early work that combines Hollywood style with the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema, with musical numbers and twisting tales of love and revenge.

  • DADDY AMIN (1950): Chahine’s feature debut and tribute to his father, starring Faten Hamama.
  • THE DEVIL OF THE DESERT (1954): A musical adventure that upends Orientalist tropes, starring Omar Sharif.
  • MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE (1957): A visual feast with legendary singer Farid al-Atrash and screen icon Shadia.

This section presents Chahine’s socially anchored neo-realist work that reflects the personal and political lives of ordinary Egyptians over six decades.

  • THE BLAZING SUN (1954): Omar Sharif’s screen debut and Faten Hamama’s reunion in a tale of conflict, passion, and greed.
  • DARK WATERS (1955): A drama of toxic masculinity and class struggle in Alexandria.
  • DAWN OF A NEW DAY (1964): A woman reflects on her agency and life choices after a passionate affair with a younger man.
  • CAIRO STATION (1958): Chahine’s masterpiece creates a dark mood while being keenly attuned to human emotion and desire.
  • THE OTHER (1999): A cross-cultural romance that faces the opposition of a mother and the rise of religious extremism.
  • THE SPARROW (1972): A bold analysis of the 1967 Six-Day War through a variety of voices and stories.
  • RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON (1975): A political musical about a family torn apart by different social perspectives.

This section highlights Chahine’s epic re-imagining of the past that re-centers a local perspective on well-known historical tales.

  • SALADIN (1963): A lavish production that recounts the charismatic leader’s triumph against the Crusaders.
  • THE LAND (1969): Chahine’s powerful ode to the earth depicts the struggle of rural farmers against a corrupt system.
  • THE SIXTH DAY (1986): A frank reflection on desire and an ode to cinema, featuring Dalida’s last screen appearance.
  • THE EMIGRANT (1994): Chahine’s retelling of the biblical tale of Joseph from an Egyptian perspective.
  • DESTINY (1997): A hopeful musical epic that argues against violent extremism through the legacy of philosopher Averroes.

The season will begin with an introductory event, THE YOUSSEF CHAHINE STORY, on July 3. It’ll include a talk given by curator Elhum Shakerifar and special guests who will explore Chahine’s thematic preoccupations and stylistic characteristics, as well as the political and historical background of his work, and the autobiographical throughline.

Numerous screenings in the season will be introduced, with special guests including novelist Ahdaf Soueif, poet and essayist Momtaza Mehri, and filmmaker May Abdalla, as well as curator Shakerifar.