Ali Abdel-Khalek (1944 - 2022): Passage songs

Soha Hesham , Tuesday 6 Sep 2022

Ali Abdel-Khalek

The renowned filmmaker Ali Abdel-Khalek passed away last Friday at the age of 78, at the Maadi Military Hospital after a long struggle with cancer. His funeral was held the next day at the Al-Sayeda Nafisa Mosque. Despite his illness, the news came as a shock to the cinematic community and he was widely mourned on social media.

Born in 1944, Abdel-Khalek graduated from the Higher Institute of Cinema in 1966 and worked as an assistant director for many years before he started directing his own documentaries. His award-winning documentaries include Onshodat Al-Wadaa (The Song of Farewell) and Al-Suez Madinty (Suez is My City), the latter receiving the grand prix of the first Documentary Film Festival organised by the Ministry of Culture in 1970.

Abdel-Khalek’s fictional debut was the 1967 War film Oghnya Ala Al-Mamarr (A Song on the Passage, 1972), about a group of soldiers trekking through the desert after their radio connection is cut off and they begin to run out of ammunition and food supplies. Written by Mustafa Moharram, it is an adaptation of a play by Ali Salem, and stars Mahmoud Morsi, Salah Qabil, Salah Al-Saadani, Mahmoud Yassin and Madiha Kamel.

Abdel-Khalek’s collaboration with screenwriter Mahmoud Abu Zeid was unique and progressive as it produced some Egypt’s most memorable films: Al-Aar (Shame, 1982), Al-Keif (Dope, 1985), Garei Al-Wohoush (Beast Run, 1987) and Al-Beida wal Hagar (The Egg and the Stone, 1990).

Abdel-Khalek and Abu Zeid joined forces in 1982 with Al-Aar (Shame), inventing a genre of social drama that deals with the drug trade. It stars Noura and Elham Shahine as well as Nour Al-Sherif, Hussein Fahmi and Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz as the three children of a clandestine drug lord, only one of whom is aware of the father’s real profession when said dies. Now they must all join in the family business to obtain their inheritance.

Al-Keif (Dope) features, along with Abdel-Aziz, two other stars: Gamil Rateb and Yehia Al-Fakharani. An iconic dramatisation of the conflict between money and knowledge – represented, respectively, by the well-heeled university dropout turned wedding singer Gamal (Abdel-Aziz), and his ingenious but hard-up chemist brother Salah (Al-Fakharani) who tries to get him off drugs only to end up a junkie – it also features a brilliant performance by Rateb as the evil drug lord.

In 1987, the Abdel-Khalek-Abu Zeid collaboration framed the same issues of poverty, greed as they intersect with the selfish ambitions of one scientist through a simple storyline with a touch of black comedy in Garei Al-Wohoush (Beast Run). Said (Nour Al-Sherif), a doctor, is friends with the infertile Nabil (Hussein Fahmi), who is desperate to have a child with his wife (Hoda Ramzi). To solve the problem Said convinces a poor man named Abdel-Kawi (Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz) to donate a small part of his brain to Said in return for a huge sum of money, but the operation ends in failure with Abdel-Kawi suffering an unexplained, debilitating fatigue and Nabil still unable to have children.

Abdel-Khalek’s film Al-Beida wal Hagar (The Egg and the Stone), a departure from his work up to this point, is the story of Mustafa, a philosophy teacher who rents a room on the roof of an old building that used to belong to a sorcerer named Sebagh. Fired for his political views, he ends up changing his name and pretending to be the sorcerer – with astounding success. It stars Ahmed Zaki and Maali Zayed.

Abdel-Khalek’s famous films also include Eadam Mayet (The Execution of a Dead Man, 1985), starring Yehia Al-Fakharani, Farid Shawki, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, Poussi and Laila Elwi, Shader Al-Samak (The Fishmongers’, 1986), starring Ahmed Zaki and Nabila Ebeid, and Beear Al-Kheyana (The Well of Treason, 1987), his renewed collaboration with Nour Al-Sherif, starring Ezzat Al-Alaili and Abdel-Aziz Makhyoun.

In the 2000s he directed films like Al-Nems (Mongoose, 2000), starring Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz and Bono Bono (also 2000), starring Nadia Al-Guindi, Yasser Galal and Ezzat Abu-Ouf. Zaza (2006), starring Hani Ramzi, was his last film.

He wrote four of his films: Wa daa Hobbi Honak (My Love was Lost There, 1982), starring Hussein Fahmi and Nahed Gabr; Innahom Yasrakoun Omry (They’re Taking My Life Away, 1982), starring Mahmoud Al-Meleigi, Madiha Youssri and Abu Bakr Ezzat; Al-Saada Al-Mortashoun (The Venal Gentlemen, 1983), starring Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz and Mahmoud Yassin; and Arbaa fi Mohema Rasmiya (Four on an Official Mission, 1987), starring Ahmed Zaki.

In the late 2000s he directed TV dramas like Awlad Azzam (Azzam’s Sons, 2007), starring Hisham Abdel-Hamid and Nermine Al-Fiki, and Al-Bawaba Al-Thanya (The Second Gate, 2009), starring Nabila Ebeid, Hisham Abdel-Hamid and Ahmed Maher.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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