July 25, 2007

Cairo Station

Made in 1958, Cairo Station is considered to the first of cinematic masterpieces form Egypt and the beacon of Arab Cinema. Directed by Youssef Chahine, it is about sexually fueled insanity of Kenaoui, a newspaper vendor working in Cairo's railway station. He spends his time checking out women and pinning up pictures of bikini-clad women in his room. In addition to him the station has a whole lot of people representing sections of the working class people in the station- Abu Serib, the porter, wants to make a union and spends his time convincing others and trying to curb the free spirited Hanuma, the soft drink seller and his wife to be. Hanuma is like whiff of fresh air gone berserk and she is the eye sore of the station's authorized soft drink vendor. Hanuma is also the object of Kenaoui, the hobbling newspaper vendor's sexual fantasies. Hanuma's love for Abu Serib is something that is beyond Kenaoui's comprehension. He proposes to her but she keeps declining him and mocks him.

Hanuma and Abu decide to marry and Kenaoui is assigned the task of delivering Hanuma's trousseau to Abu who'd book it in the goods train. Kenaoui's frustration reaches a fever pitch and he decides to kill Hanuma. His plans are set in motion when Hanuma asks him to run off with her soft drink bucket so that the authorities can't catch her. Kenaoui asks her to come and collect it later. A tired Hamuma convinces her friend to fetch her bucket. Kenaoui ends up killing the friend thinking that she's Hanuma and delivers the body in a crate passed off as Hanuma's trousseau to Abu Serib.

What follows is how the entire station comes together and saves Hanuma from Kenaoui's evil plans. This remarkable film troubled the 1950's sensibilities of Egypt to such an extent that it was banned for almost 20 years. Set against the backdrop of a bustling railway station the director (doubling as Kenaoui as well) manages to depict the daily lives of those who work at the station as well as people who visit it using melodrama merging easily into documentary-style realism.

Over flowing with issues and thoughts, the screenplay keeps up the tone and pace all through the film's running time. Watching the film 50 years after it was made and still enjoying it proves that it has stood the test of time for it still looks fresh. The best thing in addition to the performances was the camerawork which oscillates between grand and gritty. Cairo Station's climax will stay in your mind of some time for it is tragic as well as scary.

Image Courtsey: Guardian

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