IT'S WITH AUSPICIOUS timing that Mohamed Diab's Cairo 678 screens locally, with Egypt and its horror show of social tumult on everyone's mind. 678 deals pointedly with the issue of rampant sexual harassment in the country, and Diab's film revolves around three cases based on real-life events. It's a compelling, emotively shot condemnation of the complexities that women in Middle Eastern cultures are grappling with as they pursue respect and safety. Not without fault, though, it suffers from the earnestness of its message, occasionally dipping too far into heavy-handedness.
Fayza (Boshra) takes the crowded city bus daily, which exposes her to the frequent groping of strangers. Meanwhile, Seba (Nelly Karim)—in a brief, subtle, but terrifying scene—is separated from her husband and attacked by a gang of men at a crowded soccer match, and aspiring stand-up comic Nelly (Nahed El Sebaï) is grabbed and dragged by a man driving a moving truck. Things start to coalesce when an increasingly fed-up Fayza stabs a creeper in the hand with a pin after he tries to grope her ass (an act of self-defense that gets her kicked off the bus), quickly moving on to the more effective strategy of serially stabbing any interloping boners with a knife. It's a scandal that captures the attention of the city, making the unsubtle point that if you rob women of every other recourse, it's only a matter of time until they resort to violence to protect themselves.
As much character study as it is social commentary and drama, 678 doesn't limit itself to sexual politics as they play out in the street, touring the intimate deterioration of Seba's marriage in the wake of her attack, a variety of institutional roadblocks, and the outdated but still-pervasive notions held even by the men who love these women.