In a career in cinema of more than forty years, Tawfik Saleh has made just seven feature films. Al-Mutamarridun (The Rebels, 1967) was banned for political reasons, and his last two films, al-Makhdu’un (The Dupes, 1972) and alAyyam al-Tawila (The Long Days, 1980), made in Syria and Iraq, have never been shown in Egypt.
In Saleh’s last year at university, Tawfik al-Hakim’s play, Russassa fil-Qalb (A Bullet in the Heart) was presented at the French Friendship Club in Alexandria. Saleh was asked to direct it just three days before its presentation. The French Cultural Attaché was impressed by Saleh’s direction and sent him to study theater in Paris for a year.
Saleh returned to Egypt soon after the Free Officers’ revolution, having actually studied cinema rather than theater. His first film, Darb al-Mahabil (Fools’ Alley, 1954) was influenced by al-Suq al-Sawda’ (The Black Market, 1943), which Saleh had seen being filmed by director Kamel al-Tilmissani during his first year at university. The Black Market was set in a poor district of Cairo in the manner of director Kamal Selim’s al-Azima, but unlike alAzima, this time there was no happy resolution at the hands of an enlightened pasha. Instead, the people confronted the greedy merchants and emerged victorious. With this setting in mind, Saleh collaborated with Naguib Mahfouz, in his first work for cinema, to create a film which was outside the ordinary in every respect. Although awarded the National Prize for Directing in recognition of its social commentary Fools’ Alley was badly received by both critics and public.
Saleh then made no films for seven years, until 1962, when he directed Sira’a al-Abtal (Conflict of Heroes), relating the cholera epidemic of the 1940s to the effects of British occupation. Over the years, he made three more films, The Rebels, based on a story by journalist Salah Hafiz; Yawmiyat Na’ib fil-Aryaf (Diary of a Country Prosecutor, 1968) from a novel by Tawfik al-Hakim; and al-Sayyid al-Bulti (Mr Bulti, 1969) from a story by Saleh Mursi.
He then moved to Syria for four years, where he made his masterpiece, The Dupes, written by Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani about the tragedy of the Palestinian diaspora.
In 1973, Saleh moved to Iraq, directing his last film, The Long Days, about Saddam Husayn’s revolutionary youth. He now lives in Cairo.