Cairo Station

As shocking now as it was on its original 1958 release, Cairo Station is the great Egyptian director Youssef Chahine's masterpiece, a street-level exposé of sexual obsession and working-class madness that's as grimy and claustrophobic as its Cairo railway-station setting. From its noirish opening scene, in which a scruffy newspaper hawker discovers a rag-strewn living quarters filled with cutout girlie pictures and intones “I knew then that something was desperately wrong,” it's clear that the film has departed from the upper-class realms of typical 1950s Arab cinema. Chahine moves his camera as fluidly as a sleepwalker through a nightmarish world where, as luggage porters strive to unionize and all sections of society swarm along the tracks, the crippled street vendor Qinawi (played by the director) feverishly desires a brash, beautiful, and utterly uninterested lemonade seller, with dangerous results. Combining Italian neorealism, Egyptian romanticism, and overheated film noir, Cairo Station is unlike anything anyone had seen in 1958, or indeed in 2008.

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