The grand old man of Egyptian cinema, Youssef Chahine, is back with a hard-hitting new project. The 81-year-old legend, widely recognized as the greatest living Arab helmer, is busy editing “This Is Chaos,” a contemporary look at Cairo. Pic centers on a corrupt but lovable policeman, played by Egyptian thesp Khaled Saleh, and touches on the controversial subject of police brutality. Also starring is Mina Chalabi.
The Egyptian film community has been awash with rumors over the hot-potato subject, which many believe will be Chahine’s final feature given his ailing health. Helmer let co-scribe Khaled Youssef take over for the final days of shoot after his condition deteriorated, although Chahine was present for all the pic’s most important scenes.
Chahine has also contributed a separate short which will bow at Cannes as part of the portmanteau “Chacun Son Cinema” commissioned by Giles Jacob to celebrate the fest’s 60th anniversary.
Despite not being finished, buzz on “Chaos” is already strong in Cairo from those who have read the script and seen the rushes, with some suggesting it is Chahine’s strongest pic since his 1997 prophetic feature “Destiny” about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. “It’s a brave film and is different from his last couple of films,” says Gaby Khoury, managing director of Misr Films, the shingle producing the pic.
Budgeted at $2 million, the pic is being funded with coin from France 2, Canal Plus and Saudi paybox ART. “Chaos” producers are hoping editing will be completed in time to give the film a shot at a Venice box in September.
A new Chahine project is a major event in the Egyptian film biz, and “Chaos” is proving no different. One story even suggested Chahine had stuck logos of Arab newscasters Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya on some of his cameras to protect his crew from any potential interference from Egyptian authorities, although Khoury denies this.
The issue of police brutality is a highly sensitive one in Egypt. There was outrage earlier this year when bloggers on YouTube leaked video footage of Egyptian security officers torturing prisoners.
Pic’s imminent bow is a major boon for Misr Intl. The shingle also has in the pipeline a project from longtime collaborator Yousry Nasrallah, who is close to completing the shoot for “Aquarium” on location in Cairo.
Pic is Nasrallah’s first since his 2004 epic “Gate of the Sun” about the fortunes of a Palestinian family over a 40-year period. “Aquarium” is set in 2006 and follows 48 hours in the life of two characters, a female radio presenter and an anesthetist, who meet in an abortion clinic. “It’s about what you can reveal anonymously, in a state of delirium or in a dark street but you can’t reveal openly,” Nasrallah says. “It’s been the most difficult shoot. It’s become very tough to shoot in Cairo. It was easier to film entire Palestinian villages being blown up than film a guy walking down the street here.”
Pic stars rising Arab star Hend Sabri in the role of the femme DJ, with Amr Waked playing the anesthetist. Coin was provided by ARTE, Fond Sud, World Cinema Foundation in Berlin and ART. Pic is a co-production between Misr Intl. and Archipel 35, the shingle which also handles the Belgian Dardenne brothers.
Involvement of ART in both the Chahine and Nasrallah projects is surprising, given that the Saudi paybox tends to veer away from bold dramas in favor of family-friendly fare. “They’ve been very good with us, although they haven’t seen the films yet,” Khoury quips.