Egyptian director Youssef Chahine’s 1958 masterpiece is set in Cairo’s chaotic central train station, where a rush of humanity – rich and poor, powerful and disenfranchised, happily secular and rigidly religious – overlap in a seemingly endless chase to somewhere else. In the midst of the madness is a crippled newspaper vendor (brilliantly played by Chahine), whose infatuation with a visceral, free-spirited soft drink peddler (Hind Rostom, in an astonishing no-holds-barred performance) leads to tragedy after she cruelly toys with his pathetic emotions.
Using an innovative mix of raw Italian neorealist passion and shadowy Hollywood-style film noir cinematography, “Cairo Station” creates a disturbing vision of betrayed emotions, conflicting values and a rush of humanity lost within the smoke and noise of the rumbling trains. In retrospect, it is amazing that the Nasser-era censors ever allowed this daring production to be made, let alone exported for global acclaim – its frank consideration of sexuality and its open assault on the status quo (particularly with a positive presentation of labor unions and American-style rock music) was highly unusual for 1950s Arab cinema.
Today, this DVD release offers serious cinephiles a rare chance to understand Chahine’s importance, which has been rooted in reputation and not retrospective for too many years (the majority of his films are not available in U.S. on DVD). This long-overdue release is very highly recommended, and it will hopefully encourage the further distribution of other elusive Chahine classics.