Cairo Station

Director: Youssef Chahine
Year: 1958
Rating: 8.0
Country: Egypt

I have quite a liking for Egyptian cinema of the 1950’s – what they refer to as The Golden Age - though due to the scarcity of these films with English subs, I admit to having seen less than ten of them I think. But I have liked them all. They are elegant, emotional, romantic, often musical and they take us to a world that has disappeared in the morass crudeness of the modern age and Islamic fundamentalism. In these old films there is dancing, singing, drinking, sexual yearning and women being desirable.

Cairo Station produced in 1958 is considered one of the best if not the best artistic film from that period. It is directed by Youssef Chahine who is perhaps their most famous director – partly of course because of this film which is simply wonderful taking neorealism smack into the hard bitten center of pure black and white noir. Neorealism meets noir and film wins. It is beautifully shot and acted and hits you in the gut. Chahine also discovered Omar Sharif in a café, so we owe him for that.

Cairo Station is where Egypt meets in a melee of people and classes all with their own story. The trains keep marching in loud and boisterous movement and interspersed are stories of people struggling to earn a meager living, of the collision of ideologies, furtive romance, kindness, broken hearts, sexual obsession, bidding farewell to loved ones and reeking in their own poisonous loneliness that scars like a razor. This all takes place in one day.

A crippled newspaper seller (played by Chahine) is in love with the seductive and flirtatious Hanuma (played by Hind Rostom, who was called The Marilyn Monroe of the Middle East for her blond hair and voluptuous figure) who illegally sells cold drinks to hot sweaty people while trying to avoid the cops, but Hanuma is in love with another. This is the main story but around it floats others as well. From a neorealism film about the underclass, it suddenly on a dime turns into a startling suspenseful noir full of bitterness and shadows with no redemption waiting for anyone. The film at the time was considered so shocking for its portrayal of sexual obsession and madness that it was banned for 12 years in Egypt. If you are ever going to see an Egyptian film, this is the one to see. And then see others.