CAIRO (Reuters) - Film director Youssef Chahine, a leading light of Egyptian cinema for more than half a century, died in Cairo on Sunday at the age of 82 after six weeks in a coma, his office said.
Chahine, best known for his series of films linked to the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, had a brain hemorrhage in June and spent several weeks in a Paris hospital before returning to Cairo about 10 days ago.
The director’s last film, Chaos, came out earlier this year but his colleague Khaled Youssef had to finish the work because of Chahine’s ill health.
Film critic Tarek el-Shenawi said in tribute that Chahine set the standard for generations of Egyptian directors.
“He was the master. When you see the names of those who worked with him ... you can say that the giants of Egyptian cinema graduated from the Youssef Chahine academy,” he said.
“For 60 years he was the biggest name in Egyptian cinema and he breathed cinema to the very end. Youssef Chahine lived only for cinema,” he added.
Critic Ahmed Youssef said: “Egyptian cinema without Youssef Chahine will have lost much of its special touch and its contribution to global cinema. He was part of a context in which Egyptian cinema was searching for itself.”
Film director Asmaa al-Bakry praised Chahine as a film-maker and activist. “He played a very large role in cinema, spreading Egyptian cinema abroad.”
“We are his students, we loved him because we often agreed with his stances,” she added, referring to Chahine’s sympathies for Egyptian opposition movements.
In recent years the film director spoke out in support of the opposition group Kefaya (Enough), which campaigned against the re-election of President Hosni Mubarak in 2005.
Chahine, a French speaker with a following in France, made the first of more than 25 films in 1950. In 1997 he received a lifetime achievement award at the Cannes film festival.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Sunday: “The (cinema) has lost one of its most famous servants.”
“Very attached to his Egypt but open to the universe ... Youssef Chahine sought through his work, during his entire life, through the pictures, to denounce censorship, fanaticism and fundamentalism,” Sarkozy added.
Born a Greek Catholic Christian in Alexandria in 1926, Chahine studied acting in Pasadena, California, in the late 1940s and began work in the cinema on returning to Egypt.
He is credited with discovering actor Omar Sharif, whose first starring role was in Chahine’s 1954 film The Blazing Sun.
One of his first major works, often cited as his finest, was Bab al-Hadid (Cairo Station) in 1958. Some political films followed, reflecting the political ferment of the period.
In 1978 he released the first of a series of four autobiographical films, Alexandria Why? He ended the quartet in 2004 with Alexandria New York, a film which explored his mixed feelings about the United States.
His funeral will take place in Cairo’s Greek Catholic cathedral on Monday and he will be buried in his family’s tomb in Alexandria, the state news agency MENA said.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El-Kaissouni and Paris bureau)
Editing by Catherine Evans