Cairo Station (rewatch)
Posted by martinteller on June 9, 2012
This will probably sound exactly like my review from last year, my opinion hasn’t changed at all. The story of Qinawi (director Youssef Chahine), a lame vagabond discovered by the newspaper salesman Madbouli (Hassan el Baroudi) at the train station. Madbouli gives him a job, but has some concerns about the scads of pin-up pictures papering the walls of his ramshackle shed. Indeed, Qinawi is severely lusting after Hanouma (Hind Rostom), a gal who sells soda pop on the trains. Hanouma coyishly leads him on, despite no intentions of having anything to do with him. She’s betrothed to Abu-Serih (Farid Shawqi), a burly porter trying to unionize his fellow workers. Qinawi’s frustrated desire takes a sinister turn, and he starts getting inspiration from the headlines about a murderer on the loose. A string of knives dangles in the foreground, and a smiling salesman emerges behind them. “Can I help you?” Oh yes, Mr. Knife Salesman. You certainly can.
With restless cinematic energy, Chahine builds a noirish thriller with psychosexual themes that recall Hitchcock and Buñuel. Qinawi’s lustful obsession permeates the film, building to a stunning and frantic crescendo. Chahine does a marvelous job in the lead role, giving the character a vulnerable innocence tainted by dark desires and sexual frustration. Rostom is also amazing, an Egyptian Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot, bristling with wanton mischief. She knows the effect she has on men, and she knows how to exploit it… what she doesn’t know yet are the potential consequences. Her relationship with Shawqi (another fine performance) is both sweet and disturbing, its playful tenderness undercut by a moment of raging abuse.
Banned for 20 years for its lurid content, it also packs a political punch. The station is the country in miniature, with its citizens struggling for representation in the workplace, progression of the feminist movement, an escape from oppressive law enforcement, and freedom to indulge in a changing society that includes rock music and a less repressive sexual culture. And furthermore, the film does it all with narrative tension and a wonderful sense of style. There are absolutely electrifying moments and brilliant shots, with evocative (and sometimes ironic) use of music. The train station is presented of a place where danger looms, and there are several menacing close-ups of heavy machinery at work.
I still need to check out more by Chahine (Alexandria…Why? was an interesting film but with some noticeable flaws), although I’d be surprised if any are as memorable and exciting as this. I should also make an effort to see what else Rostom — apparently quite a star in Egypt, and deservedly so – has done. In the meantime, it was a joy to revisit this one, a magnificent piece of work. Rating: Masterpiece