Movie Review: Cairo Station (1958)

Title: Cairo Station
Release Date: July 1,  1958
Director: Youssef Chahine
Production Company: Al-Ahramm Studios

Cairo Station was produced just a few years after the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy and the birth of the Egyptian republic and captures the nation at a time of great social change and modernization. The film’s frank depiction of the lives of the working class and sexuality would not be possible even a few years later when government censorship became more restrictive. Director Youssef Chahine took inspiration from Italian neorealism and film noir, and I also see flashes of French New Wave and a Hitchcock thriller as well. Indeed, Chahine’s performance as Qinawi presages Anthony Perkins in Psycho two years later.

Set in Cairo’s main railway station, the film focuses on the everyday lives of the people who work their, including the vivacious soft drink vendor Hannuma (Hind Rostom), the union-organizing porter Abu Siri (Farid Shawqi), and the kindly newspaper seller Madbouli (Hassan el Baroud). When the shy and physically disabled Qinawi arrives from the countryside Madbouli gives him a job selling papers. Qinawi becomes obsesses with Hannuma and immediately proposes marriage. Hannuma casually rejects him since she plans to marry Abu Siri. Qinawi’s obsession then turns murderous.

I”ve seen a lot of reviews that refer to Qinawi by the modern term “incel,” which is an apt shortcut to describing the toxic masculinity and violence against women depicted in this film.  While the Hitchcockian final act is a tense thriller, one should not overlook that the early parts of this film are a sympathetic look at the quotidian lives of the working class.  There’s even space for joy as in a vibrant scene where Hannuma dances to the music of a band of buskers in a rail car, which is beautifully filmed. Cairo Station is definitely a film worth checking out.

Rating: ****

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