Henry Barakat, the magic filmmaker

By Ayman Makram
“You must work like a locomotive” were words said by the great artist Van Gogh. They explain the numerous works of art that he has left for us, despite the lack of appreciation he had throughout his tragic life.
Henry Barakat, who was born in June 1914 and whose centennial we are celebrating in the Cairo Film Festival this year, also worked like a locomotive. For he has left us a hundred films that he directed, produced or wrote scripts for, the first of which was “The Martyr” in 1942.
He made great movies, such as “Al-Haram” which was the only Egyptian movie to be nominated for the Palme d’Or Award of the Cannes Film Festival in 1965.
He and other great filmmakers like Ezzedine Zulfiqar, Kamal al-Sheikh and Fatin Abdel Wahab were the backbone of Egyptian cinema. They respected the audience, but they did never go by the rule that a customer is always right.
Barakat never sought awards like some other directors of his generation. And he did not have a certain ideology that he wanted to portray in all his films. 
When his film was nominated for the Cannes award, the French Le Monde newspaper wrote: 
“This film gives us a record of the daily suffering of a small village as symbolized by the heroine. The realism element that the director was keen on made the film more than just a melodrama.”
Barakat addressed issues in his films that others did not dare. His film “The Open Door,” which was released in 1963, talked about a community that sought liberation while steeped in traditions condescending women as inferior. In the end, the heroin rebels this perception and decides to make it on her own. It was awarded best film at the Jakarta International Film Festival.
His film “Something in My Life” talked about a wife committing adultery. No one else before or after Barakat had such an artistic and humane vision for this thorny relationship, for he did not take any moral stand against the wife.
We miss filmmakers like Barakat at this turbulent time, where the Egyptian cinema is submerged in endless problems that threaten its very existence. His was a cinema that extended the bridges of literature and music to recipient who had not read books or visited art galleries before.
Today’s cinema is one that sees a customer always right and presents him ugliness and vulgarity only to take what is in his pocket.
Be honest while making a movie and you will sell well and even get nominated at festivals like Barakat. 

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