Cairo Station (1958)

There are a number of fields of world cinema where I am, frankly, pig-ignorant, and Middle Eastern cinema is one of those areas. Indeed, I don’t know if Egyptian cinema even counts as Middle Eastern or if it counts as African… anyway, suffice to say it’s far from being an area of expertise for me; Cairo Station was as good as virgin territory for me, what with my only other recorded experience of Egyptian cinema being a later short film by the same director. I accordingly don’t know a great deal about Youssef Chahine, other than that he was reasonably well established as a filmmaker by the time he made this; and I similarly know nothing about the penetration of Western cinema into the Arabic markets, but Cairo Station suggests that Chahine at least had more than a passing acquaintance with the film noir phenomenon… story revolves around events at the titular train station and particularly Qinawi (Chahine himself), the newspaper vendor, and Hanouma, one of a number of girls who sell soft drinks illegally on the trains as they pull up. Qinawi’s been given the job by the news stand owner in sympathy for being disabled, but even before the credits roll we gather it’s not just his leg that’s a bit twisted. There are a few quite startling moments in this reasonably melodramatic film—and I’d be willing to bet that  there had been few if any such overt sex bombs in Egyptian cinema as Hind Rostom’s Hanouma in this film—but arguably Qinawi’s descent into madness is most startling of all, because it’s so underplayed; it would’ve been terribly easy for Chahine to play the character as loud and brassy as Rostom plays hers, and I’m kind of glad that he went the other road, cos it stops the film being excessive. I don’t think Cairo Station‘s quite a masterpiece, but it’s a pretty effective and efficient bit of filmmaking, and you can have fun comparing it to how Hollywood would’ve done the same story; I suspect the union organiser would’ve been more villainous, for one thing…

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