Remembering Mohamed Radi: The October War director

Ashraf Gharib, Wednesday 17 Oct 2018

Mohamed Radi, one of Egypt's pioneers in cinema, was born 14 October 1939 and died 11 October 2017

Mohamed Radi
Mohamed Radi (Photo: Al Ahram)

No Egyptian movie director has been as linked to the 1973 October War as the late Mohamed Radi.

He is the only director who has made three films tackling this important military event in which the Egyptian Armed Forces crossed the Suez Canal six years after the 1967 Defeat. The first film was Sons of Silence (1974) followed by Life is But an Instant (1978), and then finally The Wall of Heroism (1998), which hasn’t yet been released.

Thus, Mohamed Radi’s name remains present in the month of October every year amid all the commemorations and festivities accompanying the October War victory. It is a strange coincidence that Radi was born 14 October 1939 and died 11 October 2017.

Mohamed Radi belonged to large artistic family whose most prominent members include actor and stage director Al-Sayed Radi, songstress Afaf Radi, cinematographer Maher Radi and film director Mounir Radi, among others. All were adamant against any cultural and artistic normalisation with Israel.

Interested early on in photography, Mohamed Radi, born in Al-Gharbia governorate, decided to enrol in the Higher Institute of Cinema in 1958 when he was his the second year in the Faculty of Law. He specialised in cinema directing and continued to study law.

He joined Egyptian State Television in its early years where he acquired experience in making a number of documentaries and short films. He has also gained skills from working as an assistant director with big name directors at the time, such as Youssef Chaine, Fateen Abdel-Wahab and Helmy Halim.

In 1968, he made the biggest artistic and intellectual leap in his life when he and other cineastes, including Ali Abdel-Khalek, Raafat Al-Mihi and Ghalib Shaath and critics Samir Farid and Hashem El-Nahas, founded the New Cinema Group. The founding of this group accompanied the state of anger sweeping the world in 1968, especially in Europe, and also in Egypt following the 1967 Defeat.

Radi was an important activist in this group that had a distinct set of objectives: making a different kind of cinema unlike that prevailing at the time, and getting rid of market mechanisms hindering real creativity. Indeed, this group entered the field of cinema production in joint ventures with the Egyptian General Organisation for Cinema. This step resulted in the production of three important feature films. The first was A Song in the Corridor (1971, Ali Abdel-Khalek), the second was Radi’s debut The Barrier (1972), and the last was Shadows on the Other Side (1974, Ghalib Shaath).

The Barrier was a psychological drama in which Radi used an elevated style that was far-fetched for the audience at the time. However, it was a nice opportunity for this youthful director to display his vision and distinguished skills. Radi attempted in his next two films, Me, My Daughter and Love and The Innocents (both in 1974), to come closer to audience tastes without losing his artistic persuasions.

In his fourth film, Sons of Silence, which was released in 1974, Radi became capable of forging a cinematic formula that satisfied his artistic ambitions without ignoring commercial considerations. The film was concerned with the 1967 Defeat’s psychological and social impact through a group of soldiers of various backgrounds stuck in one trench on the battle lines. He began shooting in 1972, before the October War by a year. When the war broke out and military victory was achieved, it drove him to add some scenes that were the first portrayal of this military event on the silver screen.

Following this film, Radi directed 11 films in which his cinematic style crystallised; relying on the impact of light for dramatic purposes, consumately utilising space and decor, and paying close attention to facial expressions, especially in close-up.

One of Radi's most prominent films in this period is Behind the Sun (1978) in which he tackled the issue of freedoms in Egypt at the end of the 1960s. In the same year, Radi returned to war films in Life is But an Instant, based on a play by Youssef Al-Sibai. After two years, he directed The Inferno, signalling the beginning of collaboration with the star of the period, Adel Imam. Both worked together in Mothers in Exile (1981) and The Humans and the Jinn (1985).

Other notable films are An Appointment with Fate (1987), An Appointment with the President (1990) and What Goes Around (1992), followed by his final film The Wall of Heroism, after which he moved to directing TV dramas. He directed the TV series Al-Komi (2001) adapted from a Khairy Shalaby's novel starring Mamdouh Abdel-Aleem and Elham Shahin.

During his eventful career, Radi received many awards for almost all of his films, both in local and international festivals, and was honored by a number of film societies in Egypt. Two books were written chronicling his cinematic career as a director and a producer, and sometimes as a collaborator in scriptwriting. He fell ill in his final years and died 11 October 2017 at the age of 78.

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