Dir: Mohamed Diab
Stars: Bushra, Nelli Kareem, Nahed El Sebai, Maged El Kedwany
Showing as part of the Showroom Cinema’s Egyptian Spring season, although Cairo 678 was made before the revolution, it could not have come at a more propitious time. The role of women in Egyptian society mirrors, to a greater or lesser extent, many countries within the Arab region. In light of the many horror stories regarding the treatment of women coming out of that region, it is a welcome study from the inside. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is purely a film about feminism in Egypt, it is a film with a far broader scope.
The film follows three female protagonists, Fayza (Bushra), Seba (Kareen) and Nelly (El Sebai) who, albeit coming from different backgrounds of Egyptian society, have one thing in common; they have all been the victims of sexual harassment. Fayza is the poor housewife struggling to pay her children’s school fees and fend off her husband’s advances, whilst running the gauntlet each morning on the bus. Seba is an affluent self-defence teacher who was previously assaulted at a football game. Nelly is a call-centre worker whose assault leads to her having to decide to go against her family’s wishes and bring the first sexual assault case in Egyptian history. As their stories collide the trio decide that the only way to combat this harassment is to take affirmative action to defend themselves. Fayza decides to take Seba’s advice literally and arms herself for her bus journeys. As her victims begin to appear, receiving much publicity, the police (with the chief being beautifully played by Maged El Kedwany) struggle to find the perpetrator.
Cairo 678 is a superbly made film with many unexpected surprises. The way the three stories are drawn together is majestically done. There are strong performances from all the female leads with Bushra’s particularly standing-out. Considering the subject matter, Cairo 678 is surprisingly funny at times; El Kedwany’s policeman bringing light relief to what could have been a tough watch.
It is pretty shocking to learn that Nelly’s story is actually based on a true story. Western audiences could find it difficult to comprehend partially alien culture, but Diab does a great job in presenting us with a detailed account of Egytian culture.. In the Q&A after, Mohamed Diab explained how difficult it was to get actors involved in the project due to the subject matter. It is a very brave subject to tackle for your first film. Indeed, it has already had three law suits filed against it. The fact he took on such a contentious issue isn’t that much of a surprise when you discover that Diab is better known in his own country as a political activist.
Cairo 678 is a film of great maturity and is presented in a very balanced way; not only does it take on the problem of sexual harassment; it tackles the underlying issues in Egyptian society. Much like Egypt today, this film is not straight forward.