Salah Abouseif

Salah Abouseif (Arabic صلاح ابو سيف ) is one of Egypt's greatest film directors. Abouseif has directed 39 films since his directorial debut in 1945 with the film Dai'iman fi Qalbi. He is particularly known for his faithful portrayal of the popular quarters of Cairo, where most of his films are set. His close affection for these areas comes from his own childhood in Boulaq, where he grew up in poverty. His early personal experiences are reflected in his films not only in terms of their setting but also in their characters. The mother in an Abouseif film is usually portrayed as self-sacrificing, as was the directors own mother, who fled an intolerable marriage to raise her children on her own.

The father as a character is either absent or megalomaniacally self-centered. Abouseif's own father, a wealthy and dictatorial 'umda (headman) from a village in Upper Egypt, only came to Cairo occasionally, with the motive of trying to force Abouseif's mother to return with him to the village. When she would not, he cut her off financially and refused to contribute to the expenses for his children's education. The tyrannical 'umda is another staple character in Abouseif's films. Abuseif's interest in the cinema dated from his earliest youth, but his desire to study the art formally had to be sacrificed to the family's economic need. Nevertheless he continued to study cinematography on his own, and his natural gift for languages helped him to read everything he could lay his hands upon. After he had been working for three years in the Mahalla al-Kubra textile factory, his big break came and he was invited to work for Misr Studios in Cairo. Six years spent at the studios gaining experience in montage were, the director says, the best way for him to learn the craft of film making. Abouseif's films are well known for their violence and their frank treatment of the relations between men and women. For the latter especially the director has often been censured. The directors current project is a film intended to test the limits to which the public and the censors are willing to go. After seventy-five years, he is still breaking down the barriers to full artistic expression and setting new standards for realism in the Egyptian cinema.

Some Selected Movie Reviews

Shabab Imra'a (A woman's youth, 1956)

  • Story: A. Y. Ghurab
  • Scenario: A. Y. Ghurab and S. Abouseif
  • Dialogue: Sayid Bidir
  • Camera: W. Farid
  • Decor: W. al-Din Samih
  • Music: F al-Dhahiri
  • Montage: A. Abdu
  • Produced by: W Farid and Ramses Naguib
  • Length: 126 minutes
  • First exhibited: 9 January 1956
  • Cast: Tahia Carioca, Shukry Sarhan, Shadia, Abdel Warith Assir

A young man from the country arrives in Cairo to finish his education. His landlady, a widow and successful businesswoman in the quarter of the Citadel, seduces him. Although she teaches him much about life she also makes him forget his obligations to his family, his studies, even his religion. When he tries to put her aside she attempts to force him to give up everything in which he believes. This film was shown at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. It enjoyed tremendous popular success after its premiere at the Miami Cinema in Cairo because, in addition to the rich images it presents of life in a popular quarter, the situation of the hero is one which was familiar to many young Egyptians who leave their homes in the country to come to university in Cairo.

Al-Zawja al-thaniya (The second wife, 1967)

  • Story: Ahmad Rushdy Saleh
  • Scenario: Mustafa Samy, Sa'd el-Din Wahba, and Salah Abouseif
  • Dialogue: Mustafa Samy
  • Decor: Hilmy Azb
  • Camera: Abdel Halim Nasr
  • Music: Fuad al-Dahir
  • Montage: Sa'id el-Sheikh
  • Production: Shirkat al-Qahira li-al-Sinema
  • Length: 105 minutes
  • First shown: 16 October 1967
  • Cast: Suad Hosny, Shukry Sarhan, Sana' Gamil, Salah Mansur, Suheir el-Murshidy, Muhammad Nuh, Abdel Minem Ibrahim

An 'umda and his wife are childless after years of marriage. Desperate to have a son to inherit his wealth and position, the 'umda decides, with his wife's's consent, to take a second wife. The woman he has in mind, however, is already happily married to one of the 'umda's tenant farmers. Her husband is pressured to divorce her. The second
wife, determined to fight the situation into which she has been forced, proceeds to undermine the 'umda's household and his feudal authority from within. When he dies, she redistributes to the peasants the wealth he had taken from them. This film, particularly noted for its depiction of the folk practices of the Egyptian village, won nine prizes in the Ministry of Culture's film competition in 1968.

Hammam al-Malatily (The bathhouse of Malatily, 1972)

  • Story: Ismail Wali al-Din
  • Scenario: Muhsin Zayed and Salah Abouseif
  • Dialogue: Muhsin Zayed
  • Camera: Abdel Munim Bahnasy
  • Montage: Muhiy Abdel Jawwad
  • Producers: Aflam al-Hilal-Salah Abouseif
  • First shown: 2 July 1973
  • Cast: Shams el-Barudy, Muhammad al-Araby, Yusuf Sha'ban, Nimat Mukhtar, Fayez Halawa

Set in Cairo in 1973. A young man from the village arrives in the big city full of hope. There he encounters moral
and material decay and young people heedless of the tragedy in which Egypt is living. A storyteller comments on the action, comparing the situation to Egypt under the Mamelukes. Made to address the post-1967 depression that still had hold of the country, Abouseif says that in this film he tried to show that the nation had become decadent, obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure, and that this had been responsible for bringing about the defeat.

Al-Saqqa mat (The water-carrier Is dead, 1977)

  • Story: Yusuf al-Sibai
  • Scenario and Dialogue: Muhsin Ziad
  • Music: Fuad al-Dahiri
  • Camera: M. Sabou
  • Montage: R. Abdel Salam
  • Decor: M. Abdel Jawwad
  • Production: Yussef Chahine (Egypt), Satpec (Tunisia)
  • Cast: Ezzat al-Alaili, Amina Rizq, Farid Shawki, Shuwikar, Nahid Jabr, Balqis Shariaa

The story of the friendship that develops between two men with quite different world views. One, a water carrier whose wife has died twenty years before, spends his days thinking about her. The other, who works in the funeral business, spends his life in the pursuit of pleasure because he recognizes that death will bring an end to all enjoyment. They meet and become friends. Through this friendship the water carrier is encouraged to change his morbid way of thinking and to enjoy life.

Al-Bidaya (The beginning, 1986)

  • Scenario: Salah Abouseif and Lenin al-Ramly
  • Dialogue: Lenin al-Ramly
  • Decor: M. Muhsin
  • Camera: M. Ahmad
  • Music: A. al-Sharii
  • Montage: H. Afifi
  • Producers: Al-Alamiya
  • Length: 123 minutes
  • Cast: Ahmad Zaki, Youssra, S. al-imary, Gamil Ratib, H. Ahmad

Under the burning sun of an Egyptian August, an airplane makes a forced landing in the desert sand near an oasis. The twelve survivors of the disaster construct a micro-society which is a reflection of their own, with all its alliances and conflicts. This film was shown in 1987 at the Venice Film Festival.

The director says, "I had been trying to make this film for more than twenty years, ever since the very first days of the socialist transformation. Even today I run into people that do not understand the meaning of socialism or democracy. The oppressed, the workers, the poor-some of these are even opposed to these ideas. Those who call most vocally for socialism and democracy have been a very bad advertisement for them. The idea for the film came from this, to present those questions which ff we were able to answer we would find the answers to many of the problems of our society, and perhaps we have succeeded."


  1. Khayati, Khemais. Salah Abou Seif: Cineaste Egyptien. Cairo: Dar al-Ma'arif, 1990.
  2. "Salah Abu Sayf . . . yatadhakkar.' Al-Shumu' (Spring 1990), pp. 28-32.
  3. Tawfiq, Sa'd al-Din. Fannan al-Sha'b: Salah Abu Sayf. Cairo: Dar Misr li-al-Tiba'a, 1968?

The data displayed here was extracted from a booklet compiled by Roberta L. Dougherty Middle East Bibliographer & Head, Middle East Technical Services University of Pennsylvania Libraries and published by the American University in Cairo (AUC) , during the celebration of Mr. AbuSief's 75th birthday in 1990. 

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