Κυριακή, 20 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

CAIRO STATION (1958, YOUSSEF CHAHINE)


My first Egyptian film. I don't really agree with another IMDb reviewer who claimed it "one of the greatest films ever made" or that its visuals are "stunningly orchestrated" (1958 was TOUCH OF EVIL's year, let's not forget) but it's a neat little film. It has that very basic, almost primitive, shooting style and editing which in some ways reminds of me Greek rural romance melodramas from the same time yet the perverse content sets it worlds apart from that kind of populist cinema which I suspect was as popular with lower/middle-class audiences in Egypt as it was in Greece. I liked that Chahine makes the titular railway station a stage for contrast between the old and the new. Between fashionable swinging Egyptians and the traditional Muslim conservatives. Between a lady president dressed in a modern pantsuit and destitute girls selling soda to the passengers. Between the old feudal faction of porters and the new one trying to assert its working rights by forming a union. This sociopolitical contrast touching on contemporary changes in Egyptian society (which, other than what the movie presents, I know nothing about but seem to be almost identical with the anxieties that surfaced in Greek screwball comedies of the same time) reflected in the movie itself, out of a typical melodrama of thwarted love for his crippled newspaper selling protagonist Chahine dragging a dark noirish thriller with psychosexual undertones and an almost slasherish turn in the third act replete with knife-wielding crazies chasing beautiful women around that predates PSYCHO by a good two years. In borrowing the generic aspects of a programme picture for the finale of his character-driven piece and portraying his mentally imbalanced protagonist with sympathy and humanity, Chahine succeeded in making a movie more wholesome than its 73 minute duration would suggest. Banned in Egypt for 20 years and nominated the same year it came out for the Golden Bear in the Berlin Film Festival, Cairo Station is that rare beast: a film both violent enough to shock the establishment but also with enough heart and pathos to appeal to film audiences despite (or perhaps even because of, ) its violence.

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