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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Remembering Egyptian actor Nour El-Sherif: Last of a great generation

11 August marks second anniversary of Nour El-Sherif's death

Ashraf Gharib, Saturday 12 Aug 2017
Nour El-Sherif
(Photo: Al Ahram)
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None working in the Egyptian cinema industry can believe that two years have passed since Nour El-Sherif died on 11 August 2015 following a silent battle with cancer.

This distinguished man’s contributions in the fields of acting, producing, cinematic direction and even theatre direction prove that Nour El-Sherif wasn’t just a name in the history of the Arabian acting. He was a unique artist and left an indelible mark on cinema in the Arab world during the last half-century.

El-Sherif was born in 1946 in El-Sayeda Zeinab, the popular Cairo quarter, and changed his career path from playing football for Zamalek Club to studying at the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts to satisfy his love of acting.

His fellow actor Adel Imam introduced him to the late director Hassan Al-Imam, and in 1967 he debuted in the film “The Palace of Desire”, and since acted in about 175 films and more than 30 TV series and tens of plays and radio dramas.

But what’s vitally important is that he appeared in a very critical stage in the history of Egypt and even the whole world. At the close of 1967, as El-Sherif made his debut in “Palace of Desire”, the world was on the eve of a great transformation, with students’ and workers’ demonstrations in Europe and the United States making not simply headlines but history.

In 1968, Egypt was still living in the atmosphere of the 1967 Defeat and popular demands for change. Cinematic life wasn’t far away from this anger and this desire to reinvent itself.

Thus, the most important cinematic group in Egypt was founded in this year, namely the New Cinema Group. It demanded a cinema closer to reality, searching for new mechanisms in cinema production.

Cinematic life witnessed a revolt against the prevalent artistic faces that dominated the screen throughout the two previous decades. A number of female stars emerged, including Naglaa Fathi, Mervat Amin, Nelly, Soheir Ramzi and then Poussi, Nora and Safia El-Emari.

As for the male stars, the field was to be dominated by the chief trio of Mahmoud Yassin, Hussein Fahmy and Nour El-Sherif.

This period stretched from the end of the 1960s and through the 1970s.

Despite this trio’s successes and domination of Egyptian cinema in the 70s in particular, Nour El-Sherif was ahead of his colleagues the moment he recognised his artistic personality’s singular features or what distinguished him from his early stage companions. or even the late Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, who appeared later in 1974.

So, what then were El-Sherif’s distinctive artistic features?

Nour El-Sherif was the only one of those actors who graduated from the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts. Consequently, along with his talent, he acquired an academic qualification and broad artistic culture that helped him more than the others in making good choices and enhancing his performance altogether.

Since general cinematic taste was biased in favor of the "handsome" look of stars like Hussein Fahmy, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz and Mahmoud Yassin, this confined the selection of those stars in a specific area.

On the other hand, Nour El-Sherif, who didn’t totally lack "handsomeness," surpassed them with the features of the simple Egyptian citizen; the son of the popular classes, whether the educated middle class member or the artisan son of the proletariat class, searching for bare necessities.

From this angle, the circle of his choices broadened and demand on him rose more than on others, even after the emergence of the subsequent generation in cinema, represented by Ahmed Zaki, Adel Imam and Yehia El-Fakharany. This generation wiped out the handsome star criteria. Meanwhile, Nour El-Sherif’s fortunes rose in the 1980s and 1990s to the extent of becoming the most prolific actor of his generation.

None of the aforementioned names, which were in the forefront of the cinematic scene in the 70s, 80s and 90s, was qualified to perform in action films except Nour El-Sherif. This materialised in films “The Circle of Vengeance” (1975), “A Rendezvous with the Past” (1975), “The Perverts” (1976), “Shams’ Stroke” (1978), “Hawk Eyes” (1992), “The Flames of Vengeance” (1993), “Mushroom” (1997) and others. This was an additional advantage that made El-Sherif matchless among his rivals.

Egyptian cinema of the 1970s and the following decades welcomed artistic duos, especially if they were married couples in real life. This gave more credibility to onscreen romances, and provided a broader area for publicity purposes. Since marrying in 1972, the duo Nour El-Sherif and Poussi acted together in about 15 films. The most prominent of these films are “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1977), directed by Samir Seif, “Always My Lover” (1980) by Hussein Kamal and “The Lovers” (2001) by Nour El-Sherif.

If we add to this duo another significant element, the retired actress Nora, Poussi’s younger sister, who participated in co-leading roles with El-Sherif in several films of this period, we grasp more this evident presence of Nour El-Sherif in the 1970s and the following decades in cinema.

El-Sherif believed in the importance of supporting young directors, especially Higher Institute of Cinema graduates. This encouraged them to present their projects to him before any other actor. Thus, Nour was a common denominator in the debuts of Samir Seif in “The Circle of Vengeance” (1975), Mohamed Khan in “Shams’ Stroke” (1978), Atef Al-Tayeb in both “The Deadly Jealousy” (1982), “The Bus Driver” (1983) and Mohammed El-Naggar in “The Times of Hatem Zahran” (1987), to name a few.

Moreover, with his purely Egyptian features, Nour El-Sherif’s existence as a star coincided with the emergence of the neo-realist wave in the Egyptian cinema at the beginning of the 1980s at the hands of directors Atef El-Tayeb, Mohamed Khan and Douad Abdel-Sayed. This explains why specifically El-Sherif and Ahmed Zaki were recurrent names on posters of most new wave directors. “The Bus Driver”, which earned El-Sherif the best leading man award in International New Delhi Film Festival in 1983, was the film that established the neo-realism and maintained its continuity years after the end of the 1990s.

An important fact that shouldn't be ignored is that Nour El-Sherif's entry into the production field made him keen to ensure the success and durability of the films he worked on. All his self-produced films were successful both critically and commercially. These include, among others, "The Circle of Vengeance", "Shams' Stroke", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "Always My Lover", "The Last of the Respectable Men" (1984), "The Times of Hatem Zahran", "Nagy Al-Ali" (1992) and "The Lovers".

Finally, Nour El-Sherif managed to match his cinematic presence in a number of TV series, such as: "I Won't Live in My Father's Shadow" (1996), "Haj Metwali's Family" (2001), "The Spice Dealer and the Seven Girls" (2002), "Al-Dali" (2007) and “Khalaf-Allah” (2013). Consequently, newcomer directors began to demand his participation in their films more than other actors of his generation and the subsequent one.

This happened with the directors Marwan Hamed in "The Yacoubian Building" (2006), Sandra Nashaat in "Transit Prisoner" (2008), Adel Adib in "The Night of the Baby Doll" (2008) and Amir Ramses in "Cairo Time" (2015), his last film after which he began to suffer from a continuous health crisis until he died 11 August 2015.
 

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