The Emigrant

Sunday school was never like this! THE EMIGRANT tells the epic biblical tale of Joseph, son of Jacob, from the Egyptian perspective. Ram, the Joseph character, is a dreamer and proto-intellectual, bullied by his elder brothers. He dreams of leaving his family's nomadic life to study agriculture in Egypt, the hub of civilization. Though sold into slavery by his brothers, Ram overcomes tough odds and manages to win the approval and help of Amihar, the Theban military chief, and the affections of Amihar's wife, Simihit. But at what cost? Filled with beautiful location shots of Egyptian ruins and lush re-enactment's of decadent cult rituals, THE EMIGRANT was banned in Egypt because it blasphemed Islam by portraying Joseph, whom Muslims consider a prophet, in human terms. The film's fresh reworking of a familiar Old Testament tale makes it almost equally provocative for Jewish audiences. Michel Piccoli, star of MARTHA AND I (JFF 1994), plays Ram's father. Don't miss this stunning adventure in Biblical kitsch! 1994 London Film Festival.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1926, into a Christian community and received a Fracophile education. Youssef Chahine studied briefly at university locally before moving to California where he studied film and theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1940, Youssef Chahine, then fourteen years old, wanted to dance like Gene Kelly. Guided by the extraordinary stage director Leonore Shanwise and the friendships of Victor Jory and Robert Preston at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, he received his diploma in 1948 and returned to Egypt where he apprenticed with the Italian documentary filmmaker Gianni Vernuccio. He began his own directing career in 1950 at age 21 with his first feature film, BABA AMIN, directed in Cairo. But it wasn't until his controversial 1958 feature, CAIRO STATION, that Chahine's international reputation was established. In 1956, he just had to become as great a Hamlet as John Guilgud had been to his era. Forty-six years, some 30 features and numerous awards later, Chahine continues to provoke controversy and is still the "enfant terrible" of cinema in the middle east. THE EMIGRANT was banned by Islamic religious authorities in the director's native country. Pursuant to a 1983 Fatwa issued by Cairo's El Azhar university outlawing representation of Prophets in any artistic work whatsoever, the Egyptian courts listened to the plaintif, "a God fearing Egyptian muslim citizen," and in December of 1994 ordered the security services to seize all copies of THE EMIGRANT and banned its exportation abroad. Chahine was well aware of the Fatwa and for that reason changed the names of film characters from the original Biblical story. He submitted the script and thus received the official censor's approval. 750,000 Egyptians have already seen THE EMIGRANT when an obscure lawyer cried blasphemy. Less than a year later, REUTER reported: "Youssef Chahine's popular film al-Muhajer (The Emigrant) was banned for the second time on August 31, 1995, on the grounds that it contravenes Islamic rulings about depiction of prophets. The film was first banned in November 1994 after a case was brought against it by an Islamist lawyer. Chahine successfully appealed against the ban in March but a counter-appeal was subsequently filed." The second ban in March 1995 mentioned here was launched by a Christian Copte lawyer accusing Chahine of not being true to the Biblical figure of Joseph.... Chahine continues to fight for independent cinema in the Arab world. He has created in Cairo a production company, Misr International, comprising of movie theatres and a studio.
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