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Kinawi, a physically challenged peddler who makes his living selling newspapers in the central Cairo train station, is obsessed by Hannouma, an attractive young woman who sells drinks. While she treats Kinawi in a sympathetic way and jokes with him about a possible relationship, She is actually in love with Abu Sri', a strong and respected porter at the station who is struggling to unionize his fellow workers to combat their boss' exploitative and abusive treatment. Written by
I believe Cairo Station marks my very first experience in watching an Egyptian movie (those television soap operas over the RTM channels when I was younger, don't exactly count). And having the opportunity to watch one made by an acclaimed Egyptian filmmaker, was nothing less than a bonus. What provided the icing on the cake, was that it was shown in 35mm print, and that is precisely the attraction of the World Cinema Series.
I was under the uninformed impression that older, black and white movies, will likely to be paced too slow for my liking, or have stories that are quite bland by today's standards. I was so wrong, and Cairo Station absolutely threw those notions out of my mental window the minute I experienced the first few minutes of it. It has an extremely strong story, sophisticated in that it managed to span multiple threads and had ensemble characters, having so much paced so nicely within its 74 minute runtime, and having them all come together neatly for the finale.
Having the events take place within a single day, it centers around 3 lead characters - Kenawi the newpaper boy (played by the director himself), who walks with a limp and gets discriminate against by the working folks at the train station (hence the English title), Hanuma the sultry, sexy soft drink seller (played by Hind Rostrom) and her beau Abu Sri (Farid Shawqi), a porter at the station who's galvanizing his fellow workers to form a union to fight for better wages and welfare. There you have the female lead in a familiar seductress role, an anti-hero, and the hero himself, caught in a love triangle, which starts to turn Kenawi's jealousy and having his love spurned, into a dangerous obsession.
Sounds like a Hitchcock-ian thriller? You bet! It's a dark movie indeed, one which explores the trappings of a misguided soul and his fetish and fantasies of beautiful pin up models, and because of his inability to express himself properly, gets frustrated and even with his relatively low IQ, starts to scheme to get his desires met. But it's not always all about Kenawi, as having the premise set in one of the busiest train stations, it allows for a number of avenues to introduce simple side stories to enrich the main narrative - every anonymous face in the station, definitely has a story to tell.
And what exactly was in the film that had made audiences back then upset? Well, I could offer a few suggestions, but by today's standards, it has seemed that it's already quite common, be it the water soaked clothing that accentuates a woman's curves, or a folio consisting of various scantily clad pin up models, or the many cleavage bearing shots, or perhaps some dancing and flirting amongst a train full of man, giving them that seductive wink? One wonders, but as with most situations, anyone seemed to have been crossing the boundaries, pushing the envelopes, or revolutionizing the way stories are told, would have met with either accolades for doing so, or unfortunate condemnation like what this film received during its very first screening.
But on hindsight, as always, this movie is nothing short of being remarkable. And having already watched it, I will be watching it again when the film screens once more to the general public on October 5th. Mark your calendars, and experience a world class production that has withstood the test of time - 50 years and counting, is no mean feat!
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