CAIRO STATION (aka: THE IRON GATE) (BAB EL HADID) (director/writer: Yousseff Chahine; screenwriters: Abdel Hay Adib/Mohammed Abou Yousseff; cinematographer: Alvise; editor: Kamal Abul Ela; music: Fouad El Zahiry; cast: Yousseff Chahine (Qinawi), Hind Rostom (Hanouma), Farid Chawli (Abou-Serib), H. el Baroudy (newspaper agent), Naima Wasfi (Hallawitin), Said Khalil (station worker); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Gabriel Talhami; Typecast Releasing; 1958-Egypt-in Arabic with English subtitles)
“This was Chahine’s break-through film, one that was popular in Egypt and also put him on the international map for directors.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A florid neo-realist melodrama that plays like film noir, but quite deftly blends in romance, comedy, music (be-bop interludes), suspense and keen social observations. It’s shot in sparkling black and white by the renown Egyptian filmmaker Yousseff Chahine(“Saladin”/”An Egyptian Story”/”Alexandra Encore”). This was Chahine’s break-through film, one that was panned upon its release and then banned for decades by the censors. Much later it was re-released and declared by some as a masterpiece. Its later discovery put Chahine on the international map for filmmakers.
Chahine also stars as Qinawi, in a powerful performance as the pathetically insane station newspaper seller, who is sexually obsessed with the brash and sexy illegal soda vendor Hanouma (Hind Rostom). She rejects the impoverished and homely Qinawi’s advances and laughs off his ridiculous marriage proposals, while using their friendship to hide her bucket as she runs from the station police trying to catch her in the act of selling soft drinks without a permit. The temptress is engaged to the burly macho station porter Abou-Serib (Farid Chawli), who is looking forward to a bright future with his feisty bride. Meanwhile the porter has his hands full trying to organize a workers’ union while also planning for a proper marriage by having enough money for the wedding ceremony. When Qinawi’s obsession gets out of hand, his fixation on Hanouma becomes dangerous as the rejected loser vows to kill her if he can’t have her.
It’s a dark pic, set entirely at the busy main Cairo railway station. Chahine’s atmospheric chaotic railway station sets the tone to depict an Egyptian society in flux. The misfit crippled resides in a makeshift shack by the tracks, that has bikini-dressed western women as pin-up cutups plastered on his walls. Rostom engagingly plays the childishly cruel flirt who drives the crippled crazy because he can’t have her no matter how much he lusts for her and no matter if he offers her his mother’s valued expensive necklace or his promises of providing security, a house and family for her. The porter is the third leg of the triangle, a figure of the ambitious working-class trying to make a career that pays enough wages so he has a respectable life.
What’s, perhaps, most admirable, is that Chahine’s film surprises by filling the screen for an Arab movie with so many sexually suggestive scenes and such a vivid portrayal of a psychotic mentality by the rejects of Egypt. I think it’s easy to over-rate the film because of those surprise glimpses at the disenfranchised Egyptians who are invisible in the under-belly of Egyptian society and thereby pass over some of the film’s more awkward storytelling moments.
REVIEWED ON 6/26/2013 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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