Director Youssef Chahine studied film in Pasadena, and in "Cairo Station" (1958), it is obvious that he brought a chunk of Hollywood back to Egypt with him. Shockingly, this film is a melodrama, complete with a dramatic, Fifties' style musical score... not at all what you'd expect coming out of Egypt in the late 1950's.
The story concerns a pathetic, lame street dweller named Qenawi who is obsessed with the voluptuous images of Western women that have filtered into the slums of Cairo. Like an American sailor, he cuts photographs out of advertisements and puts them on the wall of his dwelling. This illustrates Qenawi's awestruck, skewed view of women. Qenawi lives at the edge of the railyard, which becomes a ready metaphor for the pipeline to the world beyond Egypt. The poor Qenawi has been given a job hawking newspapers by a sympathetic vendor. Qenawi has focused all his lust upon the free-spirited and curvaceous Hanouma, one of a group of women who illicitly sell soda pop out of ice buckets around the railyard. But although Hanouma is willing to flirt with Qenawi, she is bent on marrying a chisel-featured man who is trying to organize the local workers.
Director Chahine filmed "Cairo Station" in the style of Italian Neo-Realism (Rosselini, De Sica) with crisp black and white cinematography and lots of close-ups of the actors faces, particularly accentuating the hungry, voyeuristic eyes of Qenawi. Nods to Western cinema are everywhere, including the conspicuous Hollywood poster of Marilyn Monroe's "Niagara" that features in a few scenes. Beyond that, there is the ubiquitous soda pop which the young people spirit onto an empty railway car in a wonderful scene where two musicians play rock and roll on acoustic guitar and accordion for Hanouma and other revelers. That scene conveys more about the power of rock and roll in a compact few minutes than a hundred episodes of "American Bandstand" could.
When it becomes clear that Hanouma will reject him, Qenawi decides to wreak his revenge and the film turns into a psychological thriller. But there is so much else that is unexpectedly fresh about the movie. For a 1950's movie made in the Middle East, it is powerfully sensual and provocative. It walks a line between embracing Western sexual freedom and condemning it. And there are more surprises. Feminists are shown demonstrating against marriage (in Egypt, in 1958!). Young people are shown embracing the charismatic ideal of the pop star. One of the small subplots concerns a young girl's infatuation with a young boy who looks like an Egyptian Sal Mineo. It is this girl who peers yearningly into the distance as the film ends. This couple seems to symbolize the hopes of the future.
If you've never seen this movie, by all means do so. It will be a revelation.