Mohamed Khan, who passed away this morning in Cairo at the age of 73, was one of Egypt’s greatest and most influential filmmakers.
His films make up a significant part of a very important period in Egyptian filmmaking history, associated with the 1980s and often called neo-realism, alongside contemporaries such as Bashir al-Deek, Atef al-Tayeb, Raafat al-Mihi and Khairy Beshara.
Khan’s most prevalent themes include class struggle, the effects of Anwar al-Sadat’s capitalist open-door policy, societal oppression of women, and food. His early style was characterized by agile shooting on location in the streets of Cairo, and he always maintained an unusually meticulous eye for detail. He worked until the end of his life, and his works were often highly innovative — he made Egypt’s first digital feature, for example. He also continued to be active in the film industry and cultural community, guest programming films, making appearances, critiquing new releases and publishing his writing.
As such, Mada Masr has published a number of articles on Khan’s work since we began in 2013. Here’s a list of pieces devoted to his films and writing.
The first in our longest-running series, “Egypt’s cinematic gems,” was devoted to Mohamed Khan’s 1986 film Omar’s Journey, and written by Andeel. It explains something about the motivations and approach of Khan and his peers. “These were filmmakers who grew up in an Egypt that used to be at war but now had to be at peace, that used to be socialist but now — for some reason — had to be capitalist, where everybody had been going one way but now had to go in a different direction, one that they didn’t know anything about. Society was living in a state of denial and confusion. So movies set in cheap rooftop rooms, slums, the countryside, and dirty government offices, rather than nightclubs and giant fancy flats, were strange enough that a whole new genre had to be created.”
As Amany Aly Shawky writes, one of Khan’s earliest feature films, A Dinner Date (1981) is a “fast-paced feminist tragedy.” She notes that Souad Hosni, a longterm friend and collaborator of Khan’s, is the star and the focus, with love interest Ahmed Zaki (also a Khan regular) emerging from the film’s margins only halfway through.
“Between the ill-fitting day job, elating football games in the afternoon and occasional one-nighters with a colleague, pretty much nothing happens. And that’s the pure beauty and feral brilliance of the storyline. The Artful is more proof that the 1980s was the era when Mohamed Khan, among other brilliant realists, graced Egyptian cinema with its best work,” writes Ali Shawky about this 1983 movie, which might easily be acting star Adel Imam’s best.
“As long as I could remember, I always knew that Mohamed Khan’s Missing Person (1984) was my father’s favorite, and we watched it many times together,” Ali Shawky writes. “But the first time I watched it alone, I realized with a shock that it’s the story of my father’s life.”
“Elsewhere 1991 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of an era, a dream and an idea, but for Mohamed Khan and Egypt the year 1970, with the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser, marked an era’s end and the start of an new one. Showing the violations of the newborn Sadatism identifies what Nasserism was not,” Adham Youssef writes about this 1987 film, starring Ahmed Zaki as an increasingly successful policeman and Mervat Amin as his wife. “Khan has a long history of making women the gauge of society in his films; through their reactions and interpretations we know what’s actually taking place.”
Ali Shawky also wrote about Hend and Camillia’s Dreams (1988), one of Khan’s many masterpieces: “A bittersweet film focused on class hierarchy, women’s labor and a corrupt patriarchal system that ultimately doesn’t benefit anyone.”
“Greetings from a failure to all the successful people,” wrote Khan at the beginning of Supermarket (1990), which, as Ali Shawky says, concerns the bittersweet disintegration of an Egyptian middle class in the face of capitalism. Supermarket is the tale of a pianist and a supermarket clerk, and their battle against the world of villainous surgeon who has technology and imported Californian oranges on his side.
“There’s a unique magical pleasure I get when watching Egyptian movies I like. As a viewer whose cinematic taste was formed in the time of globalization, deep inside my brain the word ‘hero’ will always make me think of blue eyes, and wherever there’s an explosion there’s always a red convertible American car,” writes Andeel about Mr. Karate (1993), which stars Ahmed Zaki. It’s about red convertibles driving through explosions, he argues — but the red convertible is an unemployed youth with a broken leg.
Factory Girl (2013), made when Khan was 70, has striking similarities to some of his previous classics, including Hend and Camillia’s Dreams, A Dinner Date, and Omar’s Journey, as Andeel and Jenifer Evans explain. It deals with the brutal class system, “but his first post-revolutionary movie also asks questions about Egypt’s post-revolutionary reality, partly through the role that he and writer Wessam Suleiman give to the late actress Souad Hosni.”
This is a short video piece by Cinematology’s Mohamed Soliman on Khan’s entire body of work, examining how his stories are always character-driven, his interest in deep human emotions and his use of iconic close-up shots.
Last but not least is Nour El Safoury on the great filmmaker’s recently published collected articles, Mokhreg Ala al-Tariq (Director on a Journey, 2015). From showbiz gossip, childhood memories and praise of films or foodstuffs to nuanced arguments about the state of the film industry, she explains why Khan’s writings offer plenty to chew on. “Khan himself is often in dialogue with notions of belonging and commitment. Through his writing, he furthers his position as an outsider never fully in tune with the film industry or the communities in which he lives and works.”