Cairo Station (1958)

Chahine’s brisk and energetic work set in a railway station shows us characters who are forced to eke out a living, with the director himself brilliantly playing a psychologically unstable poor man who fantasises about being with the woman of his dreams.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,272

Dir. Youssef Chahine
1958 | Egypt | Drama | 77 mins | 1.66:1 | Arabic
PG13 (Netflix rating) for some violence and sexual references

Cast: Farid Shawqi, Hind Rustum, Youssef Chahine
Plot: A newspaper salesman at the train station in Cairo develops an unhealthy obsession with a woman who sells refreshments.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
Source: Front Row Filmed Entertainment

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Desire, Working-Class
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

At less than 80 minutes, Cairo Station is one of Youssef Chahine’s briskest efforts.  It is also one of his best and a great way to introduce yourself to the rich body of work from this very fine Egyptian filmmaker. 

Set entirely in a busy railway station, Chahine himself plays Kenawi, a poor, limping man who works as an assistant in a newspaper stand. 

Every day he fantasises about being with the woman of his dreams, someone who is within his clutches as she, Hanuma (Hind Rustum), plies her illegal trade selling cold drinks to passengers at the station. 

Rustum is amazing as Hanuma, a boisterous and flirtatious character so full of vigour that it seems impossible to contain her energy. 

This energy, translated visually through Chahine’s dynamic, sometimes wild, filmmaking style, gives Cairo Station a sense that anything is possible. 

“Every minute, a train departs, and every minute, another one arrives.”

As the narrative unfolds, that can’t be any truer than the sensational stories about crime and murder that we see plastered on newspapers. 

Chahine is also brilliant as Kenawi, giving us a character whom we care deeply enough to sympathise with despite being unstable psychologically. 

In this busy intersection of departing and alighting passengers, the workers hustle and try to dominate each other in hopes of increasing their meagre daily earnings. 

Cairo Station is a compelling attempt to capture the working class and the outsiders of society, either shunned or disdained; and also the boorish and exploitative. 

It is a melting pot of people with dreams of a better life, with some ominously determined to go to extreme lengths to make theirs a reality.

Grade: A-


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