A lonely sexually repressed obsessive newspaper vendor played by director Youssef Chahine longs for the country life and a sultry vixen who sells American Coca Cola to passengers at an urban train station. It’s an existential nightmare that doesn’t end well.
This is the premise for Chahines 1958 Egyptian film triumph “Cairo Station” which is not what you expect in a Middle East film. Chahine must have studied European masters of neo realism of the 1940s to craft a troubling mix of desperation as seen through shadows and light.
The newspaper vendor and women who sell soft drinks to middle class travelers at the depot are central to the drama that pits traditional Muslim beliefs against decadent western capitalism. Workers shed your chains preaches a union organizer who offers hope to those oppressed by their bosses. Women are used and physically abused with sex and sadism an underlying theme.
Against the backdrop of a billboard with a voluptuous woman, men gather on the public square to face Mecca for their daily prayers, not a hospitable setting for the devout. We are not far from pagan Western influences in the depot when we see on the wall a poster advertising the sexy 1953 Hollywood movie “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe.
Beyond the depot, Chahine offers a glimpse of Cairo’s urban possibilities teaming with hope and poverty with western jazz making us forget we are in the Middle East. (“Cairo Station” is available on DVD with subtitles).