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Perfectly timed to coincide with the massive protests that recently engulfed Egypt, Mohamed Diab‘s Cairo 678 is a blunt but powerful portrait of three women of varying social backgrounds rebelling against the sexual harassment endemic to that country’s culture. Although the film veers uneasily between character study, social criticism and less lethal, Death Wish-style vigilante action, it nonetheless sheds important light on a rarely depicted subject.
The film recently received its North American premiere as part of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films series.
The three central characters are working-class Fayza (Bushra), upper-class Seba (Nelly Karim), and aspiring stand-up comedian Nelly (Nahed El Sebai). All have experienced sexual harassment in varying forms: Fayza is constantly being groped on the city’s overcrowded buses; Nelly is nearly attacked on the street by a gang of men; and Seba was the victim of a gang rape years earlier and now teaches a course in self-defense for women.
Seba mentors the two other women about their respective plights, who respond in quite different ways. Nelly decides to initiate the nation’s first sexual harassment lawsuit, while Fayza begins stabbing her would-be harassers in the groin with predictably dangerous results.
A sympathetic police detective investigating the stabbings eventually gets involved, bringing all three women in for questioning.
Diab’s screenplay does an excellent job of providing complex characterizations for the central characters. For instance, the Muslim Fayza at one point delivers a lengthy diatribe about women who wear overly provocative clothing and refuse to keep their heads covered.
The men in the women’s lives are varied in their responses to their partners’ quest for justice. Fayza’s financially struggling husband (Bassem Samra) becomes irate when she refuses to give in to his sexual advances. Nelly’s fiancé is supportive, while Seba’s husband is too prideful to fully sympathize to her plight.
Superbly acted by the leads — Bushra and El Dedwany shared the Best Actress Award at the recent Dubai Film Festival– Cairo 678 eventually reaches a rather too tidy conclusion. But despite its flaws, it’s to be hoped that the film has the social impact to which it so obviously aspires.
New Century Productions
Cast: Nelly Karim, Bushra, Maged El Kedwany, Ahmed El Fishawy, Bassem Samra, Sawsan Badr, Nahed El Sebai, Omar El Saeed, Yara Gobran, Ibrahim Salah, Moataz El Demrdash
Director/screenwriter: Mohamed Diab
Producer: Bushra Rozza
Director of photography: Ahmed Gabr
Editor: Amr Salah El din
Music: Hany Adel
Production designer: Ali Hosam
Costume designer: Malak Zo El Fakar
No rating, 103 min
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