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Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Remembering Hussein Sedki: Egyptian cinema’s first jeune-premier

Hussein Sedki was born on 9 July, 1917 and died on 16 February, 1976.

Ashraf Gharib, Monday 29 Jul 2019
Hussein Sedky
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Since the emergence of Egyptian cinema, most leading men come from either the stage such as Youssef Wahbi, Zaki Rostom and Serag Mounir or from the world of singing such as Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Abdel-Ghani El-Sayed and Ibrahim Hammouda. Even those who came from neither fields and were leading men on an early stage, such as Khaled Shawqi, Ahmed Galal and the Jewish actor Shalom, have quickly withdrawn from the arena before the concept of the jeune premier was established.

Only two have the credit of confirming the jeune premier concept, i.e. the one who was shaped by cinema without a previous art medium. The first was Badr Lama, who was of Palestinian descent and came with his brother Ibrahim Lama from Chile. He was the leading man in the second narrative feature film in Egyptian cinema A Kiss in the Desert (1928, Ibrahim Lama).

As for the second actor, Hussein Sedky, who was born in El-Helmeya El- Gedidah, Cairo on 9th July 1917 and was the leading man for the most famous film in the history of Egyptian cinema 'The Determination' (1939) and stirred controversy during his life and after his death.

Hussein Sedki didn’t pursue education after high school, but received a special diploma in acting from El-Khediveyya School, the most prestigious school at the time. In 1937, actress, producer and director Amina Mohamed organised a contest for fresh faces so as to choose the leading man of Tita Wong, which revolved around a Chinese girl who falls in love with an Egyptian young man.

Many amateurs entered the contest, including the late President Anwar Sadat. However, a young man, named Hussein Sedki, won the contest and became the film’s leading man when he was just twenty years old.

The film’s budget was 17 LE only. Hence, many critics considered it just a cinematic foray by its maker Amina Mohamed. It was enough for the actor, producer and director, Hussein Sedki, to emerge and become a significant milestone in the history of the Egyptian cinema industry.

Following Tita Wong, Hussein Sedki acted in five films in the next two years, such as Execution Hour (Youssef Wahbi) and The Price of Happiness (Alvise Orfanelli). However, the handsome young man wanted a film that would catapult him to the forefront of the cinematic map in Egypt. This was accomplished at the hands of director Kamal Selim, the Egyptian Realism movement pioneer, who chose him to be the leading man in The Determination (1939). It was produced by Studio Masr, the biggest Egyptian cinematic establishment at the time.

Since The Determination wasn’t just a fleeting film whether through its advanced level of direction, different content and the hype which erupted from the moment of its production until the audience response on its release, Hussein Sedki emerged following this film a jeune premier.

Despite the fact that Badr Lama preceded him in this position, Sedki was distinguished by his Egyptian spirit and inclination to social criticism in his films with their diverse topics. Badr Lama, with his Levantine accent, seemed to be immersed in what’s known as the “Desert Romances” or Bedouin films. When Lama was the star of films such as Son of the Desert (1942, Ibrahim Lama), Rabha (1943) and Rawya (1946, both by Niazi Mostafa), Hussein Sedki was the protagonist of films such as A Dangerous Woman (1941, Ahmed Galal), The Worker (1943, Ahmed Kamel Morsi), The New Generation (1945, Ahmed Badrkhan) and Al-Masry Effendi (1949, Hussein Sedki). Thus, Sedki won a decent amount of the audience’s sympathy through his films, especially that his films language was direct and simple.

Reviewers used to criticise this point and saw it as a shortcoming. They also accused him of preaching and being away from the well-known cinematic language. In this debatable issue, he responded by saying that he believed that cinema can possibly be a tool for social reformation and advocating both the individual and the community to do the right thing. In this context, Sedki directed a number of films, the most important of which are: Towards Glory (1948), The Happy Home (1952) and El-Sheikh Hassan (1954) and I am the Justice (1961).

Since Betrayal and Torment (1947) in which Hussein Sedki combined acting, screenwriting, producing and directing, he has succeeded in directing fifteen films. The most prominent is Adam and Eve (1951) along with the star Leila Mourad. Although he didn’t leave a remarkable imprint as a director, he has directed a group of nationalist and historical films in the 50’s such as Down with Colonialism (1952), Khaled Ibn Al-Walid (1958) and My Beloved Homeland (1960). Perhaps this may explain why his significant cinematic roles appeared under the direction of other directors: The Determination, The Worker, Leila (1942) and Leila in the Darkness (1944, both by Togo Mizrahi), Passion Beach in (1950, Barakat) and The Unknown Lover (1955, Hassan El-Siefi).

After winning a parliamentary seat in 1961, Hussein Sedki suddenly stopped all his cinematic activities. Although this parliamentary session didn’t last but one year as President Nasser dissolved the parliament, Sedki preferred to retire and focus his efforts on Sufism. In the early 70’s, he produced a number of religious TV under the title Arrow of God, which he wrote himself. He died in 16th February 1976.

After Hussein Sedki’s death a big controversy broke out and is still reverberating until today. It was leaked that Sedki asked his sons to burn all his films as an allusion that art is a taboo. But his family denied this and stated that Sedki was a committed artist who believed in the role of art in advocating good among the audience without being indulged in the topic of art being a taboo or not.

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