etcetera | Obituaries Electronic Telegraph
Friday 6 June 1997
Issue 742

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Henri Barakat

Maker of films about murder, rape, and suicide which were popular in Egypt

HENRI BARAKAT, who has died aged 82, was one of Egypt's most popular film directors; he made more than 100 films, ranging from silly musicals and soppy melodramas to serious works that established him as a master of realistic cinema in the Arab world.

"Certainly," Barakat commented, "some of my films are the stews of a bad cook, commercial enterprises of no interest, I don't deny it. However, I have rarely made a film that I detest, that made me blush to my very bones."

Henri Barakat was born in Cairo on June 11 1914, to Lebanese Christian parents. He studied Law but never practised; instead, aged 21, he joined his brother to work on the set of Stefan Rosti's film Antar (1935).

After a few months in Paris studios, he returned to Egypt in 1940 as an assistant director. He made his first film, The Fugitive, based on a story by Chekhov, the next year.

Melodrama was the favourite genre of the Egyptian public, a highly conventionalised form based on tales of suicide, rape, murder or madness, strict fathers, passive peasants and impossible loves, usually between a rich person and a poor person of the opposite sex. Early in his career Barakat made two weepy masterpieces in this genre, Transgression of the Father and The She-Devil.

The Egyptian revolution of 1952, when the socialist Nasser overthrew King Farouk, allowed the making of films that realistically depicted the injustices of Egyptian society. It was not that censorship was lifted, rather its values shifted. In the late 1950s, Barakat made a series of realistic but sentimental dramas based on the lives of the Egyptian rural poor, beginning with Hassan and Naima in 1958.

His film The Cry of the Curlew, released in 1959, was one of his most popular. Based on a novel by Taha Hussein, Egypt's blind minister of education, the film evoked life in rural Egypt in the 1920s. It told the story of a village girl seeking to avenge the death of her sister, who was raped by her employer and put to death in the name of family honour. It starred Fatin Hamama, one of the great beauties of the Egyptian screen.

Under Nasser, film-makers were encouraged to make films reflecting a nationalistic outlook. Barakat made two films in this genre. The first, A Man in Our House (1961) about the struggle against the British occupation of Egypt, starred Omar Sharif. A second, The Open Door (1963) dealt with the Suez crisis from a stridently anti-imperialist viewpoint.

Barakat's most artistically successful film was The Sin, (in Arabic, al-Haram), made in 1965, based on a novel by Yusuf Idris. Set in 1950 it concerns a female migrant worker who is raped, then accused of killing her baby.

In the late 1960s, Barakat moved to Lebanon, where he made a series of light musicals starring the Lebanese singer Fairuz. In the 1980s he found renewed popularity with films he made with Fatin Hamama.

Barakat was married and had two daughters.


Next report: Effie Barker

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