Monday, February 22, 2010

The Iron Gate (aka Cairo Station)--a b/w beauty

*Youssef Chahine*Egypt*1958*75m*Cast: Hind Rustom, Youssef Chahine, Faris Shawqwi*Bab el Hadid*

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


Plum said...

Hi SM Rana!

Thank you alot for telling me those titles. I have seen Schindler's list but none of the other ones. I want to watch Lawrence of Arabia first on that list.

Don't Be a Plum

Nathanael Hood said...

Awwwww...I thought I was the only film critic to know about this film........

Oh well, it deserves to be seen by many more people. Another great Egyptian film that you should see is "The Nightingale's Prayer." Powerful stuff....

S. M. Rana said...

@Nathan: I'm set to watch Clean, Shaven and possibly Snake Pit too, in the next day or so.