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Thursday, 14 November 2019

Remembering Raafat El-Meehy: Egypt's 'Mad Director'

Egyptian film director Raafat El-Meehy was born on 29th September 1940 and died on 24 July 2015

Ashraf Gharib, Saturday 5 Oct 2019
Raafat El Meehy
Egyptian director Raafat El-Meehy (photo: Sherif Sonbol)
Views: 1116
Views: 1116


Raafat El-Meehy was born on 29 September 1940 to a middle-class family that was keen that its children be university graduates. He graduated from university with a degree in English in 1961, after which he worked as a teacher in a city far from Cairo.

The young man was enchanted by films and attended literary and cinematic seminars regularly.

He returned to Cairo and began working in the government’s Censorship Department. Thanks to the numerous screenplays he read, as well as watching many, many films, he decided to learn screenplay writing at the private institute established by the well-known director Salah Abu-Seif. and graduated with flying colours.

His debut was in 1967 with director El-Sayed Issa, who has just returned from the USA with ideas that weren’t compatible with Egyptian audience’s tastes. As a result, and partly because its timing coincided with the 1967 defeat, their film, The Rain Has Gone Dry, was unsuccessful.

Then big-name director Kamal El-Sheikh asked him to adapt the story Sunset and Sunrise by Gamal Hammad, one of the Free Officers that had carried out the 1952 revolution, into a film.

The film succeeded upon its release in 1970 due to its interesting story that tackled political corruption in Egypt prior to 1952 as well as the star-filled cast: Soad Hosny, Mahmoud El-Meligy, Rushdy Abaza and Salah Zulfikar.

It seems that El-Sheikh found what he needed in what El-Meehy wrote. As a result, they went on to collaborate on a number of the most successful Egyptian films of the 1970s such as Something in My Bosom (1971), The Fugitive (1974) and Whom Should We Shoot (1975).

These films brought El-Meehy fame as one of the most brilliant screenwriters at the time.

He wrote the screenplays for other important films with different directors, such as The Love That Was (1973, Ali Badrkhan), Strangers (1973, Saad Arafa) and Where is My Brain (1974, Atef Salem).

Raafat El-Meehy’s political awareness was evident. Suffice to say that when he condemned political corruption before the 1952 revolution in Sunset and Sunrise, but he also denounced the police state and all its practices.

In Strangers, he was early to notice the danger of religious extremism and Islamism. In Whom Should We Shoot, he was also one of the early critics of the marriage of politics and money and the rampant corruption in the public sector in Egypt in the mid-1970s.

In a defining moment in his life, El-Meehy decided to stop writing screenplays for others after 1975, and instead chose to direct his own work.

Through watching films and asking his director friends, he started to learn the fundamentals of direction, until he was confident enough to stand behind the camera. He adapted Desire Under the Elms by the renowned playwright Eugene O’Neill and directed it. The film was called Eyes That Don’t Sleep (1981) and starred Farid Shawqi, Ahmed Zaki and Madiha Kamel. The film had a positive reception, and El-Meehy realised that he was moving in the right direction.

He therefore began to establish his cinematic project, his cinematic world, based on fantasy and the idea of surprising the audience. He found a superstar like Adel Imam who could help with the first step of this project, and the result was Al-Avvocato (The Advocate) in 1984, which dealt with legal tricks. It created artistic and social uproar that almost caused Imam’s imprisonment in one of the most famous lawsuits of the 1980s.

El-Meehy went on to offer audiences more shocks, starting with Love’s Last Story (1986), which neither the censorship authorities, society nor the judiciary could bear. Its stars Yehia El-Fakharany and Maali Zayed were almost imprisoned for committing an indecent act.

This didn’t stop the renowned director from making the cinema that he loved.

He went on to collaborate with the duo Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz and Maali Zayed on a number of films such as The Gentlemen (1987), Hotchpotch (1988) and Ladies and Misses (1989). All these films stirred heated social debate, some lasting to this day.

In the 1990s and early 2000s he directed films such as Little Love, Much Violence (1995), Superb (1996), Toffaha (1997), The Prima Donna (1998), Total Misery (2001) and For the Sake of God's Love (2001).

Since he was convinced that no producer would bear his madness, he produced all these films. Seemingly, this madness caused him big losses, for he relied on bank loans to produce his final films.

As a result he stopped films and then directed his only TV drama series, Wikalat Atiyya (The Lodging House) in 2009, adapted from a novel by Khairy Shalaby. This coincided with the inauguration of a cinematic academy that bore his name at Studio Galal, one of the oldest film studios in Egypt. The academy continued to teach different cinematic arts until its founder became ill and bed-ridden.

He died on 24 July 2015 with a wide smile on his face, probably remembering the nickname that haunted him throughout his lifetime: “the mad director.”

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