“I wanted to testify, to tell the truth about myself and my time. This is a film about youthful dreams, about the thirst for knowledge, and about a burning desire to prove oneself. But it’s also a film about my early life, told from the viewpoint of a 50-year old man. There is thus a dialectical relation at work in the film between the young man I was in the 1940s and the older man who made the film more than 30 years later, as well as between the Alexandria of the colonial past and the Alexandria of today. Rather than being the truth about my life, the film is more the beginning of a process of settling accounts with life.” — Youssef Chahine

Alexandria… Why?, Youssef Chahine’s semi-autobiographical film about an aspiring filmmaker haunted by Hollywood dreams, meanwhile, offers an Egyptian perspective on the imperializing film culture of the US. Chahine’s protagonist begins as a Victoria College student who adores Shakespeare’s plays and Hollywood movies. The film is set in the 1940s, a critical period for the protagonist and for Egypt: Allied troops were then stationed in the country and Axis forces threatened to invade Alexandria. Although Alexandria… Why? focuses on the would-be filmmaker, its subplots offer a multiperspectival study of Egyptian society, describing how different classes, ethnicities, and religions—working-class communists, aristocratic Muslim homosexuals, middle-class Egyptian Jews, petit-bourgeois Catholics—react to Egyptian-Arab nationalism. The subplots stress the diversity of Egyptian experience, but the unanimity of the reaction to European colonialism.” — Ella Shohat & Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media

“From a historical perspective, Chahine’s cinema of the late 1970s and beyond helped initiate a bold cinematic examination of Arab national identity with an eye for celebrating its social and cultural heterogeneity. As noted above, it was at least two decades after Chahine made his autobiographical portrayal of a religiously and culturally diverse Alexandria that other Arab filmmakers began to depict aspects of the multireligious, multiethnic, and multiracial diversity of the Arab world and expose the current attempts to erase the remnants of such diversity. To the extent that it celebrated and reintroduced Jewish identity as an integral component of Arab national identity, Chahine’s Alexandria… Why? offered an Arab cinematic milestone in its heterogenic reexamination of Arab national identity.” — Malek Khouri, The Arab National Project in Youssef Chahine’s Cinema

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