Heartland pick: Cairo 678 

A still from the film, 'Cairo 678'
  • A still from the film, 'Cairo 678'

Faysa tightens the scarf around her face and lowers her head, trying to be invisible. Her eyes dart about the Cairo streets constantly, searching for the next predator. After work, Faysa (brilliantly played by pop singer and actor Bushra) takes the taxi when she can afford it. When she lacks the funds, she boards the dreaded city bus.

Faysa lingers on the steps, until she is forced to go stand with the rest of the passengers. She maneuvers through the crowd, trying to surround herself with other women, but that tactic fails. Behind her, a man lowers his hand and gropes her. Faysa quickly moves away in silence, but the man follows her. She finally gets off the bus.

At home, Faysa tends to the children, but when she hears her husband arrive, she rushes to the kitchen and eats some onions in hopes of avoiding intimacy. He doesn't understand why she behaves the way she does. After shouting at her, he rolls away in bed and tries to go to sleep. Faysa remains fearful and tightly coiled. How much longer will she have to endure a life of routine belittlement, sexual harassment and furtive assaults in public places?

Have you heard of "the lemon test?" It's well-known in Cairo. As best I understand it, a man puts a lemon in his front trouser pocket and presses up against a female bus or train rider. If she does not resist the "foreplay," the groping comes next. Primitive aggressive behavior toward women takes place all over the world, but Cairo 678 addresses the oppression against women in Egypt.

Writer/director Mohamed Diab's film deals with three Egyptian women who find different ways of dealing with assaults from men. I've focused on Faysa because her character is the strongest part of the film. Cairo 678 is flawed - time is wasted with a glib police detective, one plotline veers into '70s revenge flick territory, and the ending is contrived.

Still, the movie packs a punch. It wasn't the overt sexual predators - sadly, they are all too common. The truly shocking aspect of the film for me was watching men treat the suffering women around them with utter distain for "bringing shame" on them by being abused by other men. Institutionalized contempt by one sex toward the other. God, we are a stupid species.

The story: Seba (Nelly Karim), the victim of a gang rape several years ago, teaches a self-defense course for women. Aspiring stand-up comic Nelly (Nahed El Sebai) attends - she is facing immense pressure for initiating Egypt's first sexual harassment lawsuit. Faysa attends, but she has trouble dealing with the other women. In her eyes, they are too modern, downright brazen in fact.

Despite all the abuse she has endured, Faysa is still old school enough to accuse other women of inviting sexual assaults by their dress and/or demeanor. One part of the self-defense course grabs her attention though. When it is suggested that a women being groped on the bus might respond by jabbing the aggressor in the genitals with a pointed object, she perks right up. Thanks to Bushra and her two talented costars, Cairo 678 delivers rewards outweighing its deficits.

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