To judge by his reputation, 76-year-old Chahine is Egypt's one-man melting pot, melding influences from the world's four corners in myriad permutations through the course of his 37 films (and counting). Judging by the movies themselves is a harder task, given the rarity of British screenings. Still, even a cursory overview of the director's oeuvre suggests that if there's one thing a Chahine film doesn't resemble it's another Chahine film - compare, for instance,1958's greasy-realist Cairo Station and this knockabout high-society musical melodrama. What they would seem to share, however, is a commitment to secular humanism as a substantial, if volatile and vulnerable way of life, bound up in questions of art, sensuality, love, family, money, freedom, honesty, trust and tolerance. Admittedly that's a lot to read into this particular frolic, a lightly self-reflexive story of Egypt's rich and creative types that recalls Sirk, Demy, Fellini, Bollywood and, lately, A l'Attaque! The story also suggests All About Eve, with a popular actress and singer (played by Tunisian diva Latifa) falling under the sway of a charming snake, while her daughter sets a proper example with the chauffeur's son. It's so sunny a film that it's hard to feel ill-disposed even to the charlatan - and maybe the sheer warmth and exuberance invested in every scene is the point - if there is one.
Cast and crew
Zaki Abdel Wahab