Scen.: Youssef Chahine. F.: Mohsen Nasr. M.: Luc Barnier. Scgf.: Onsi Abou Seif. Mus.: Gabriel Yared. Int.: Michel Piccoli (Caffarelli), Mohsen Mohieddin (Aly), Patrice Chéreau (Bonaparte), Mohsena Tewfik (la madre), Mohamed Atef (Yehia), Christian Patey (Horace), Hoda Sultan (Nefissa). Prod.: Humbert Balsan, Marianne Khoury, Jean-Pierre Mahot per Misr International, Ministère de la culture (Cairo), Lyric International, Ministère de la culture (Francia), Renn Productions (Parigi), TF1 Films Production. DCP. D.: 115’. Col.
Thirty one years after being presented in the official competition of the Cannes Film Festival, Adieu Bonaparte returns in a new restored version. At the time, the film received a lukewarm, if not downright hostile, reception: several journalists judged the project ‘anti-French’ and it would not have been completed were it not for the direct support of the Cultural Minister Jack Lang, who was in the line of fire in almost all the attacks. In France, History is never written with a cool head and the idea that an Egyptian dared pit himself against Bonaparte (not yet Napoleon) could only provoke polemic.
During the press conference Youssef Chahine, Michel Piccoli and Patrice Chéreau had to strenuously defend a film that didn’t respect the academic rules of historical reconstruction. It was judged a confused work and its absence from the Palme-winners forewarned of its failure at the box-office, where it was seen by little more than 50,000 people. But this matters little: the French-Egyptian alliance between Youssef Chahine and the producer Humbert Balsan was set, and would last for twenty years.
It is its richness and complexity that makes Adieu Bonaparte a strangely contemporary film. It is as if History had validated all of Chahine’s intuitions, especially the most pessimistic ones about disaster in the Middle East, in particular in light of the mad hopes raised by the Egyptian revolution of 2011.
Showing the people of Cairo asking how they should resist the French (under what banner? In the name of what?), Chahine is simultaneously a historian and a prophet. He does not condemn anyone, even if it is clear that he prefers the ardent humanism of General Caffarelli to Bonaparte’s genius for publicity, and he multiplies characters and points-of-view so that none of them is ever completely wrong or completely right. This interior split is typical of an Egyptian who had studied in California, an Arab intellectual possessing a universal culture, who was the greatest Egyptian filmmaker, free and cosmopolitan, hated by the powers-that-be and adored by the people. This is where the Renoir-like genius of Chahine resides. Adieu Bonaparte is his Marseillaise.
Restored by Misr International Films, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels and Cinémathèque française with the support of CNC, Fonds Culturel Franco-Américain, Archives audiovisuelles de Monaco e Association Youssef Chahine at Éclair laboratories and at L.E. Diapason studio, from the negative and the sound magnetic tapes