A hundred years have passed since the birth of Egyptian filmmaker Henri Barakat (1914 – 1997).
As such, the Cairo International Film Festival is celebrating the man with an exhibition, at the Hanager Arts Centre until the festival closes next week, and a book about the late director's life and work, aptly titled Barakat, by researcher and film critic Magdy El-Tayeb.
Throughout his career, Barakat left behind a legacy of over 100 films, many of which remain at the top of any list on the history of Arab cinema.
Graduating in 1935 with a law degree from King Fouad I University in Cairo, he later travelled to France, where he studied cinema. He directed his first feature film in 1942, The Vagabond, based on a story by Russian writer Anton Chekov.
Barakat’s celebrated films can be attributed to his interest in literature – he adopted dozens of novels written by renowned authors such as Taha Hussein, Youssef Idris, Sekina Fouad, Latifa Al-Zayat and Ihsan Abdel-Kodous.
Arguably his finest films are The Prayer of the Nightingale (1959), A Man In Our House (1961), The Sin (1965) and The Open Door (1964).
Poster of the Sin (1965)
Also part of the CIFF's celebration of Barakat are screenings of his masterpiece, The Sin (1965), which was nominated for the Prix International award at Cannes.
The Sin tells the story of Aziza, a peasant who is forced by her husband's illness to work in the most inhumane circumstances among migrant peasants.
The film opens with the village finding a dead baby, who many assume to be the child of a sinful mother – not knowing that it's Aziza's baby, the product of being brutally raped by a man in the fields.
Based on a novel by Youssef Idris, the film and the novel show the oppression that peasants, especially mobile ones, faced before the 1952 revolution, which brought in radical agricultural reforms that allowed farmers to own their land.
Barakat's films vary in content and genre – from political, historical or social films, to light-hearted comedies or even musicals.
However, in many of his films the late filmmaker – best known for his romantic-realism approach – was burdened with the plight of the poor, those who resisted and were voiceless.
Barakat's films were also marked by a progressive portrayal of women. He directed several films that spoke of enlightened ideas in relation to the status of women in patriarchal and conservative societies.
His 1964 film Open Door – based on the novel by Latifa Al-Zayyat – linked women's freedom and empowerment with that of all Egyptian citizens in pre- and post-colonial Egypt.
The film follows the struggles of Layla, played by Faten Hamama, as she tries to break free from the social constraints she faces as a woman, culminating with her joining the political resistance during the Suez Crisis in 1956.
Barakat and actress Hamama worked together for almost 30 years, the last time in 1984, when they made The Night Fatima was Arrested.
Faten Hamama and Ahmed Mazhar, The Prayer of the Nightingale (1959)
In an interview in the 1960s, Hamama admitted that Barakat's The Prayer of the Nightingale and her role as Amna – the peasant girl seeking revenge for her sister, who was killed by her uncle after she slept with an upper-class womaniser – were the closest to her heart.
Second screening of The Sin will be on Friday 14 November at 2pm at the Creativity Cinema. Entry with badges.
Barakat exhibition at the Hanager Arts Centre's exhibition hall until 18 November
Check the Cairo International Film Festival's complete programme and Ahram Online's recommendations.