The first of the series, Alexandria… Why? focuses on a precocious adolescent whose dreams and colourful attempts to become an actor unfold against the vivid backdrop of Alexandria during World War II, delivering a potently subversive and impassioned anti-war message. At turns hilarious and touching, the autobiographical nature and nostalgic flavour of the film make it one of Chahine’s most accessible works.
The sequel to Alexandria... Why? covers the beginning of Chahine’s career up to his open-heart surgery in 1973. Chahine plays his alter ego Yehia, who gains international fame in Europe only to discover that, as in Egypt, film is as much commerce as it is art.
The film features extraordinary and eccentric scenes, one in which Yehia travels to London for heart surgery and becomes infatuated with a male cab driver and another in which he imagines himself forced to justify his life and work before a tribunal inside his chest, in which his accuser is his child-self.
The final instalment of this semi-autobiographical series films finds the director’s work stalled by a strike. During the interruption in filming, Chahine reminisces about a past relationship with one of his actors while finding himself gradually drawn to an actress. A masterful amalgam of realism and fantasy, Alexandria Again and Forever is Chahine’s paean to the power of imagination and the artist.