Sunday, April 29, 2018

Egyptian Actor Mahmoud Morsi: A Touch of Genius
Ashraf Gharib
Friday 27 Apr 2018

The famous Egyptian actor died fourteen years ago this Tuesday

Egyptian actor Mahmoud Morsi, who died in 24th April 2004, remained an enigma behind which lay a thick wall of genius in both choice and performance.

He strongly protected himself from the media’s eyes, which he avoided almost totally throughout his entire life.

Some have said that the mystery with which he surrounded himself contributed to his stardom -- as if shunning the limelight were the secret behind his permanent presence in memories and minds. What a strange paradox!

Mahmoud Morsi was the only star whose fame needed no help from media. He was also the only one who attained such stardom through a limited number of roles.

Acting in TV series did not diminish his presence, although it was his favourite contribution in the last twenty-five years of his life.

Mahmoud Morsi was born in Alexandria in 7th June 1923. He studied at the Institute of Post-Graduate Cinematic Studies (EIDIC) in Paris and was a long-time lecturer in the Higher Institute of Cinema, though he didn’t direct a single film.

Morsi taught acting theory at the Higher Institute for Theatrical Arts in Cairo, but was not even well known as a stage actor -- a total paradox!

His blue eyes combined harshness and meekness, fierceness and good-heartedness, good and evil.

In spite of all these characteristics, his easiness in moving from one mood to another needed no more than a fraction of a second.

His red face did not conceal his genuine Egyptianess, and his unhurried movement before the camera didn't lessen our sensation of his vivid and flowing performance.

As for his high-pitched voice, it did not hinder him at all from expressing the most delicate human feelings. He is indeed an artist who is full of contradictions -- but those were his tools.

Morsi acted in only 25 films.

He debuted in I am the Fugitive (1962, Niazi Mostafa) and ended his run with The Sword’s Blade (1986, Atef Salem).

Throughout his cinematic career, Morsi shifted from evil to good roles, which sometimes gave way into grey area.

In his villain stage, he shone as the police chief in Prince of Cunningness (1964, Barakat), the British commander in The Price of Freedom (1964, Nour El-Demerdash), the pagan tribe chieftain in Dawn of Islam (1971, Salah Abu-Seif) and as the extremely harsh prison warden in Night and Rods (1973, Ashraf Fahmi).

All these roles, as you can see, are of chiefs and military commanders that required the display of a considerable amount of hardness and might.

This style of role reached its zenith in his most famous cinematic roles ever: his role as Atrees the Elder of the Dahashna clan in A Touch of Fear (1969, Hussein Kamal).

The haughty figure ruled his village ruthlessly, and nobody could confront his tyranny except his old flame Fouada.

However, the evil of Mahmoud Morsi’s characters was not, in many cases, pure. Cloaked in good heartedness, over bursts of villainous behaviour, Morsi's characters often embodied ethical grey areas.

Consequently, the viewer felt a certain amount of sympathy towards those characters, which were, after all, motivated by natural human weakness.

This area permitted Morsi to exercise his favourite game, moving from ferocity to meekness and vice-versa.

In The Last Night (1963, Kamal El-Sheikh), Morsi co-starred with Faten Hamama, he played a man who committed a heinous crime albeit for a noble cause.

He exploited an innocent amnesiac woman and made her believe that she was his wife in order to bring up his daughter -- her niece -- after his wife’s death in an air raid.
He then exerted every imaginable effort to stop this woman from regaining her real persona.

In the same year, in The Open Door (directed by Barakat), Morsi played an academic professor whose outer appearance is ravishing while his inside is totally different.

In The Quail and Autumn (1967, Hossam Eddine Mostafa), based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz, he played a man who lost his influence, became unable to adapt with the new reality, secluded himself and grew bitter to all those surrounding him.

In The Beggar (1973, Hossam Eddine Mostafa) -- also based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz -- Morsi transcended the model of moving smoothly from good to evil and exhibited a more philosophical proposition.

The protagonist searches for a satisfying answer about being and nothingness, existence, death and even the meaning of life in its entirety.

The protagonist’s perplexity led him to experiment with everything from sensual pleasures to the world of mysticism.

Continuing on the same path of grey-area characters, there is of course Morsi's important film My Wife and the Dog (1971, Said Marzouk) in which he plays a man with a debauched past who begins to suspect his wife of the same.

In Saad the Orphan (1985, Ashraf Fahmy), he plays a greedy man who agrees to kill his brother for the sake of money and influence, although he is very delicate and kind with his daughter and his nephew, neither of whom know anything about the murder until the very end.

This role is very similar to one that he played in the TV series The Firebird (1987, Mohammed Fadel).

Mahmoud Morsi’s efforts on stage started three years after his debut in Bitter Grapes (1965, Farouk Agrama) in which he played a big-hearted farm owner taking care of a poor girl -- much unlike the villain played by Ahmed Ramzy.

Then Morsi continued playing the idealistic character in other films such as The Sad Night-Bird (1967, Yehia El-Alamy), but his more memorable performances came in both A Song on the Corridor (1972, Ali Abdel-Khalelk) in which he personified an Egyptian soldier defending his position until his last breath during the 1967 defeat -- and in his final film The Sword’s Blade, in which he played an undersecretary obliged to play a musical instrument behind a belly dancer in order to meet his family’s needs.

Even in his repeated excursions into TV dramas, Morsi did not move away from his usual roles in cinema.

He was either an idealistic dreamer, as in The Trip of Mr. Abu-Ela Al-Bishry (1985, Mohammed Fadel) and in The Family (1994, Ismail Abdel-Hafez); a cunning man in When the Fox Fled (1999, Mohammed El-Naggar); or in the grey, area as in The Firebird.

However, in all these roles he held a tight grip on the threads of his characters and articulated them with exquisite cleverness.

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