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Why a 1950s Egyptian Film Is More Relevant than Ever

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik April 7, 2014 at 11:04AM

There have been a number of penetrating docs to come out of Egypt, most recently, Jehane Noujaim's "The Square." That film effectively captures the spirit of hope, and then disillusionment and frustration that has accompanied that country's tumultuous revolution. What's remarkable is that Youssef Chahine's classic 1958 film "Cairo Station" embodies that same conflicted sense--straddling the line between liberation and destruction, new beginnings and short-circuited dreams.
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Cairo Station

There have been a number of penetrating docs to come out of Egypt, most recently, Jehane Noujaim's "The Square." That film effectively captures the spirit of hope, and then disillusionment and frustration that has accompanied that country's tumultuous revolution. What's remarkable is that Youssef Chahine's classic 1958 film "Cairo Station" embodies that same conflicted dichotomy--straddling the line between liberation and destruction, new beginnings and short-circuited dreams. 

As I wrote in a recently published piece at Fandor, "Made in the wake of the country’s 1952 military coup d’etat, which overthrew the Egyptian monarchy, and two years after new Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser’s constitution granted women’s suffrage and prohibited gender-based discrimination, Cairo Station expresses the country’s anxieties and dreams, both then and now." 

From workers aspiring to create a union to better their conditions to women seeking equality in a new social landscape, the film is a microcosm of the Arab nation at a major turning point--not unlike the one they are experiencing today. But by film's end, all Hell breaks loose, and workers and lovers, heroes and anti-heroes, all appear stranded in the dark without resolution.