Monday, February 22, 2010
The Iron Gate (aka Cairo Station)--a b/w beauty
A film set on Cairo railway station. A railway station resembles a heart, physiologically speaking. Both are hollow. The heart is composed of thick and strong muscular fibres. The railway station is an iron structure. Both are hubs of intense activity and enclose objects in perpetual motion, parts of a circulatory system. The railway station is a place of arrival and departure, where prince and pauper co-mingle with cats and dogs. It is a miniscule of the society where it belongs. Cairo station, depicted in the black and white movie, is very much like a Indian railway stations of the same period, and even now. It is a mixture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The porters and vendors seem familiar. This is indeed a powerful, muscular, big hearted film.
Quinawi is a crippled, retarded young man, employed by a newspaper stall owner. He has a consuming fixation, pre-eminently physical, on Hanuma ( so like a Bollywood star of the same period ), a girl who goes around selling bottles of aerated water contained in a bucket. (I was half expecting Johnny Walker with his wide grin to jump out from behind one of the piles of wooden crates.) This is a milieu quite a distance from the burqua-clad Arabic stereotypes we might entertain, even for the way back sixties. Hanuma is engaged to Abu Serib, a porter thinking of starting a trade union. Quinawi, played by the director himself, descends from obsession towards intentions of homicide. The movie has moments of Hitchcock like tension, in particular a stabbing sequence similar to Psycho, which, incidentally, it precedes.
The film has elements of the Italian ( Bicycle Thief ), Indian (Ray, Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor ) and Japanese (Rashomon). It is a film of deep humanism, depicting the society where it is set with intimacy and passion. Chahine is exuberantly of his soil. For me it brings Egypt, an unfamiliar territory, to life. It's yet another reminder that the human stuff is the same. Thanks are due to Wael Khairy for introducing this movie.
Wael Khairy's review