Opening 8 Mar 2012
Writer and director Mohamed Diab’s issue film is a powerful and intimate examination of modern Egypt’s ambivalent acceptance of gender imbalance. In parallel storytelling based on real events and set in Cairo, we follow three young women from very different socio-economical backgrounds who join forces after becoming victims of sexual harassment.
Civil servant Fayza (Boshra) and her husband (Bassem Samra), a taxi driver, barely make ends meet, and without state support their two young children cannot attend school. She takes taxis to work – until her husband puts his foot down. Alarmed, she returns to taking the overcrowded #678 bus, a hellish ride with the constant sexual groping. Successfully affluent jewelry designer Seba (Nelly Karim) and her doctor husband were happy until they attended a soccer match which Egypt won, and in the tumultuous fervor afterwards they were separated; Seba was gang raped by macho fans. She now teaches women self-defense. Working in a call center pays the bills, but ambitious Nelly’s (Nahed El Sebaï) passion is stand-up comedy, and with her bank employee fiancé they frequently do stand-up gigs. When she is attacked on the street, she fights back, not just against the attacker but also against the country’s endemic yet lax attitude toward sexual harassment.
Fortuitously the three meet at Seba’s, and with her tutelage they rebel. Nelly files charges against her assailant, Egypt’s first such case, regardless of incurring family ostracism, and Fayza commences stabbing her attackers in the groin, with precarious results. Detective Esam (Maged El Kedwany) quickly closes in on the unsuspecting trio. Leveraging his dry witticisms to catch all off guard, Esam is no fool, simply wise and concerned, and surprising.
Cairo 678 is markedly shocking in that these events occurred in 2009. A law was passed in 2010 whereby female sexual harassment was punishable, yet few cases have been reported. What is entrenched into a nation’s psychic, and Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world, needs more than the so-called Arab Spring to unleash contrition on a subject rarely discussed much less depicted, albeit Diab’s excellently acted film is initiating worldwide awareness, and discourse. (Marinell Haegelin)