Foreign Film Friday: ‘Cairo Station’ (1958)

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This week for “Foreign Film Friday,” I watched the 1958 Egyptian controversial classic, “Cairo Station.” I say “controversial” because the movie was banned in its own country of Egypt for 11 years. Directed by critically-acclaimed Youssef Chahine, this was his shortest film (only a 77-minute runtime) and it follows the path of a lowly newspaper salesman named Qinawi (played by Chahine). Qinawi is obsessed with a soft-drink saleswoman, Hanuma (played by Hund Rostom). However, she is in love with a worker at the Cairo train station, Abu Siri (played by Farid Shawqi).

The most impressive thing about the film is the direction. Chahine is able to capture some really cool images throughout the film. Almost all of the film takes place inside the train station, as well, so it’s pretty remarkable for him to capture so many interesting shots within such a limited space. The way he’s able to use lighting to evoke a feeling of intensity is really well done, too.

Simply put, the script is alright (written by Abdel Hai Adib). The first 50 minutes or so is pretty slow moving. It also has different sub-plots that I found they either should have expanded more on or eliminated completely—though I always love a sub-plot where a worker tries to organize his fellow co-workers to create a union, as Abu Siri does in the train station.

The acting is good. I wish there was more character development, however, as I never really felt connected to anyone in the film. That could speak more to the script, though, and its inability to expand on anything.

The last 20-minutes is an anxiety-filled roller coaster. It made the whole rest of the movie worth it. Not to say I didn’t like the first part, but I think it would have one of my lower “Foreign Film Friday” reviews. The ending featured the strongest parts of all the aforementioned criteria: the direction was hauntingly beautiful, the acting is disturbingly good and the script is cynically wonderful.

I understand why this film was banned in its country for so long, when you consider it came out in the ‘50s. It had some sexual innuendo that I don’t think would have gone over well in the United States at the time. Plus, the violence is very “Psycho”-esque.

Overall, the film moves fairly slow paced in its build up, but the ending makes it all well. It can be found on Netflix, so it is easily accessible. I think it’s worth a watch, and I rate it a 3 ½ stars out of 5.

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