Thousands Mourn Passing of Egyptian Film Star Faten Hamama

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Egyptian Actress Faten Hamama Dies at Age 83.

Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, an Arab film icon, died late Saturday at the age of 83, according to her son, Tarek Sharif, and Egypt’s official news agency, Mena. The mayor of Cairo ended a conference on Sunday about women’s political participation by calling on the audience to join mourners headed to the funeral of iconic Egyptian film star Faten Hamama, who passed away over the weekend. The two remained Egypt’s favorite romantic couple in spite of their separation in the 1970s.(Photo: Al Ahram) On the right a photo of 7 year old Faten Hamama from her first film Happy Day, on the left a slightly older Hamama with music legend Mohamed Abdel-Wahab(Photo: Al Ahram) Faten Hamama and ex-husband Omar Sharif.

Her passing drew condolences from across the film industry, and even a rare message, for an artist, from the country’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. In a statement, Egypt’s presidency said the whole region had lost a valuable artistic asset. “We’re here to say goodbye to Faten Hamama, because she’s a symbol who delivered a message of classiness. While the former wife of internationally acclaimed actor Omar al-Sharif is remembered as one of Arab cinema’s most feminine and classy stars, many are dubbing Hamama as a symbol of women’s strength and describing her more than 100 film career as reflecting her advocacy for women’s rights. “Faten Hamama was not given the title ‘The Lady of Arab Screen’ out of thin air as her work had always symbolized and expressed the plight of women,” the Arabic-language monthly magazine Hia, Arabic for she, said in online article as a tribute to the artist. “Her work always illuminated on issues that have affected Egyptian and Arab women … at the time when nobody dared to touch these sensitive and thorny subjects,” it added.

Hamama starred in dozens of films and worked alongside Egypt’s most lauded movie director, Youssef Chahine, as well as actor Omar Sharif, to whom she was married for 10 years. One famed actress, who goes by the moniker Sharihan, wrote on her Facebook page that Hamama would remain “the greatest example for women and symbol for Egyptian women,” while Palestinian newspaper Al-Watan Voice described her as “the first who pursued women’s issues.” In the 1975 movie “Uredo Halan,” or “I Want a Solution,” about a married woman who wants a divorce because of an abusive relationship, Hamama showed the suffering of Egyptian women going through the country’s then complicated divorce process.

Hamama and Sharif appeared together in several movies but are best known for their 1961 movie River of Love, which is based on Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In her 1959 “Duaa Al-Karawan,” or “The Nightingale’s Prayer,” she played a rural girl named Amina who rebels against tradition in an Upper Egypt setting. Despite her birth certificate showing that she was born in Mansoura, Egypt, Hamama has always claimed that she was born in the Abdeen district of Cairo. Hamama considered cinema and theater as a positive force for change in Egypt, despite the fact that its conservative society considered the acting profession as less-than-honorable at the beginning of her career. Her 1975 film “I Want a Solution” gave a scathing critique of divorce and marriage laws in Egypt, while 1965’s “The Sin” focused on the oppression of struggling peasants.

Ahmed Rida, a cinema critic for the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, said Hamama “never accepted a role that would give a woman a bad image; she was always very careful on what to choose and she knew what she was doing.” While she embodied traits of the “girl-next-door,” “she had a very strong character, which helped even when she played ‘Al-Haram’ by director Henry Barakat, which was his best movie,” Rida said. “Even when she was raped [on screen], she had strength in her character,” he said, adding that Hamama was able to elicit “all the sympathy the audience could offer.” “She was a very good actress by the time; I believe she was around 47 or 50 years old. In an interview with Al Jazeera News in 2006, Hamama recalled that when the audience started to clap at the end, she told her father that “I imagined that they were clapping for me”. The receiver of the now famous kiss was Michel Demitri Shalhoub, her future husband, better known today as Omar Sharif. “My memory of her doesn’t have of her any racy scenes all throughout,” Rida said, noting that the actress had sought to “preserve” her image. “She knew that Arabs of the 1950s and 1960s were still very conservative but not like now where there are some with extreme understandings or conceptions of Islam.” “What made her unique is the strength that she expressed throughout her acting career. After that, he sent a photograph of her to the director Mohammad Karim, who was looking for a young female child to star in a picture alongside the famous actor and musician Mohammad Abdul Wahab.

Karim was so impressed with the young actress that he signed a contract with her father, and she went on to appear in more films, including Rossassa Fel Qalb (Bullet in the Heart) in 1944 and Dunya (World) in 1946. Having recognised her from her earlier films, Wahbi offered to mentor her, offering the then 15-year-old a lead role in the 1946 drama Malak Al Rahma (Angel of Mercy).

In 1949, Hamama bagged lead roles in three films that all became box-office hits: Kursi Al Ateraf (The Chair of Confessions); Al Yateematain (The Two Orphans); and Sit Al Bait (The Housewife). The 1950s attracted a wave of new directors to Egyptian cinema, and this marked the start of what is now known as the ‘Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema’.

That year also marked her international film debut, as Lak Youm Ya Zalem was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Prix International Award. That was a factor I took into consideration before approving my scripts,” she said. “And international films never interested me; while acting in foreign movies, you must accept wearing revealing outfits and doing anything. In the same 2006 Al Jazeera interview, the actress confessed that her love for Zulficar was little more than “a student’s admiration and love for a teacher”.

In 1954, while filming Sira’a Fi Al Wadi, Hamama refused to co-star opposite the actor Shoukri Sarhan, and so the role was offered to the ‘young and upcoming actor’ Omar Sharif instead. Until 1952, Hamama was an outspoken supporter of the 1952 Revolution, but later became an opponent of the Free Officers and what she called “their oppressive regime”. However, following a number of disputes with the Egyptian Intelligence, she fled the country between 1966 and 1971, where she spent her time between Beirut and London. During her time away, then-President Gamal Abdul Nasser asked famous writers, journalists and friends to try to convince her to return to Egypt, calling her a “national treasure”. They were so concerned with their problems that they did not even notice me.” Until her very last productions — her final film, Ard Al Ahlam (Land of Dreams) in 1993, and the TV series, Wagh Al Qamar (Face of the Moon) in 2000 — Hamama remained the highest-paid actress in Egyptian cinema.

During the celebration of 100 years of Egyptian cinema in 1996, she was chosen as the country’s most important actress, and 18 of her films were selected as among the best 150 made to that time. In 2009, the screen legend received the Dubai International Film Festival’s (Diff) Lifetime Achievement Award for her service to Middle Eastern cinema.

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