Mohamed Khan, master of Egyptian realist cinema, to receive posthumous award at Cairo Film Festival
Celebrated Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Khan, who passed away in July at the age of 73, left a prolific body of work that helped shape the neorealist cinematic movement in Egypt. He made more than 20 feature films that tackled social themes and discrimination against women.
Born in Cairo in 1942 to an Egyptian mother and a Pakistani father, Khan, pictured below left, will be granted the Faten Hamama Lifetime Achievement Award – named after the Egyptian actress – at this year’s Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). Khan shattered the rose-tinted lens that portrayed Egyptian life through sentimental stories of love. Instead, throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, he posed questions about life on the margins.
Khan is best known for 1983’s Al Hareef (The Street Player), Zawgat Ragol Mohem (The Wife of an Important Man, 1987) and Fatat Al Masnaa (Factory Girl) from 2013.
Fatat Al Masnaa, for example, is the story of Hiyam, a woman from a lower-class neighbourhood who falls in love with her supervisor at work. But soon her family and supposed close friends turn on her.
Zawgat Ragol Mohem, meanwhile, centres on a police official who soon becomes intoxicated by power with grave consequences for his wife. In 2013, the Dubai International Film Festival included it in its list of top 100 Arab films of all time.
It can be argued that Khan was the most successful of the neorealists due to his deep sensibility for Egyptian life: the look, taste, and feel of a country grappling to find its place in the world.
In an article on the filmmaker, Egyptian satirist Andeel described the neorealism movement as a rebellion “against the cinematic painkillers Egypt was swallowing every day: movies with bad fights, swimming pools and Lebanon’s mountains”.
In Khan’s films, however, these shiny images of capitalism are replaced with public transportation, shaabi (low income, popular) neighbourhoods and female protagonists.
Khan was also a master of technique. Known for his camera angles, mainly his close-ups, Khan allows his viewers to become absorbed by each passing glance between lovers or the hands of a surgeon, a pianist or fallen wedding ring. For these reasons, Khan is the obvious choice for the CIFF’s Faten Hamama award.
Maha El Nabawi is a freelance journalist based in Cairo.