Cairo Station (Bab el hadid)

Cairo Station

I hope you’ll find someone to make you happy.

The people who’ve written the passages for each entry in the 1,001 list go about it in different ways. Some merely get the job done, in conveying the plot and style of the film in question, while describing its impact on cinema at large. And then, for the rare but occasional film, you get the people who have a true love for the picture, who extoll its virtues and herald it as a second coming of cinema with their prose. Cairo Station (sometimes known as The Iron Gate) is one such masterpiece, as claimed by whoever wrote its entry, and as such, whenever I’d skim or read through the text for this particular film, it became more of a problem, as the film was becoming increasingly more hyped every time I’d so much as glance at the page. I was concerned that the film would end up so over-hyped to me that there would be no way for it to live up to it all. Well, in a way, that is what happened, but I still found quite a bit to be impressed about with this one.

Youssef Chahine both directs the film and stars as Qinawi, a slightly physically handicapped purveyor of newspapers at the titular train station in Cairo. He falls in love with a woman who sells drinks at the station, Hanouma, but she is engaged to Abu Serih, an upstart worker attempting to get the other workers at the station to unionize for fair wages. Gradually, Hanouma’s constant rejection and using of Qinawi’s affections for her starts to get to him, and he begins to lose his sanity and plots to kill Hanouma for pretty much no logical reason, but no one ever said insanity was logical. I will admit, the film was much more progressive than I thought it would be, the hype notwithstanding. The sense of storytelling was more modern than a lot of other films from the 1950s can lay claim to, and even the story itself wasn’t a nice, happy, all-wrapped-up-in-a-bow type of story, taking some dark twists and turns by the end of it. There were a few scenes and shots that seemed emblematic of other classic films released before this one; there was an obvious nod to The Third Man’s use of shadows against brick surfaces in the second half of the film. While it may have evoked several other timeless films, and taken more than a page or two from Italian neorealism, the cinematography was otherwise pretty standard, though the end sequence did up the ante a few notches in my book.

This wasn’t nearly the game-changer I was expecting it to be from all the build-up going into it, but then again, I haven’t seen too many Egyptian films from the era (or at all, really), so maybe this did manage to accomplish a great deal more than any other film of its country done thus far. I wouldn’t know, so I can’t say, but I still did like this one regardless. It was a good story, well told (aside from a few muddled areas in the fine print of the script), and pretty short to boot, so, what’s not to like? I may not emphatically agree with the Book’s assessment of this one, but it was still a darn good film, so I’ll mark that down as a win.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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