Friday, 30 January 2015

Philip Mansel on Togo Mizrahi

One of the best books I have read in recent years is Philip Mansel's Levant - Splendour and Catastophe on the Mediterranean, published in 2010. It is about the history of three cities, Alexandria, Smyrna (İzmir today) and Beirut, from the sixteenth century until the twentieth, and it is so incredibly rich in details, facts, anecdotes and emotions. It combines the broad sweep of history with small intimate details, and it is filled with miniature portraits of people, both ordinary and extraordinary. One of these portraits is about a filmmaker called Togo Mizrahi, and below is a large quote from Mansel's book:
Togo Mizrahi was an Italian Jew, born in Alexandria in 1901. Founder of the Egyptian Films Company, he was the epitome of cosmopolitanism – both educated in Europe and Arabic-speaking. He made thirty-two films in sixteen years, including Cocaine (1930), made in Alexandria; films on racial interaction such as The Two Delegates (1934) and Seven o’Clock (1937); four Greek-language films between 1937 and 1943; and many others about Egyptian life, or based on folk tales – like Salama (1945), which starred the adored Egyptian singer Oum Kulthoum, with lyrics by Bayram al-Tunsi (pardoned in 1938, he said he would like to kiss the dust at the King’s feet, and thenceforth worked in films). In accordance with the fashion for cinematic Arabization, Mizrahi often acted in his own films under the name Ahmed al-Mishriqi. He also helped launch the career of two Egyptian Jews, the actress Leila Mourad and a comic actor called Shalom. Nevertheless, accused of Zionism after the first Arab-Israeli War, in 1948 this apparently integrated Alexandrian moved to Italy. He died in Rome in 1986, cut off from Egypt, but still using writing paper with an Egyptian address.
Levant, p. 268, With reference to Mohamed Awad and Sahar Hamouda's The Birth of the Seventh Art in Alexandria (2007).

I did not know anything about Mizrahi before, and unfortunately I have not seen any of his films. (The oldest Egyptian film I have seen is Youssef Chahine's Cairo Station (1958).) According to IMDb Mizrahi directed 37 films and I have found a few clips online. Here is one:

1 comment:

  1. You just inspired me to order LEVANT from the public library.