Kinawi, a physically challenged peddler who makes his living selling newspapers in the central Cairo train station, is obsessed by Hannouma, an attractive young woman who sells drinks. ...
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Kinawi, a physically challenged peddler who makes his living selling newspapers in the central Cairo train station, is obsessed by Hannouma, an attractive young woman who sells drinks. While she treats Kinawi in a sympathetic way and jokes with him about a possible relationship, She is actually in love with Abu Sri', a strong and respected porter at the station who is struggling to unionize his fellow workers to combat their boss' exploitative and abusive treatment.Written by
This is only the second "Arabic" film I have ever watched; the other one, several years ago, incidentally also emanated from Egypt: AL-MUMMIA aka THE NIGHT OF COUNTING THE YEARS (1969). The reason I have decided to return, all too briefly I might add, to that cinematic territory now is twofold: because I am purposefully catching up with acclaimed movies – the film under review is included in several authoritative "all-time best" polls – and it happened to be the late director Chahine's birthday. Actually, given his relative fame, I was surprised to find out that the only other work of his to be equally referenced was ALEXANDRIA...WHY? (1979) – which is not readily available to me at this juncture – and, for what it is worth, the only other film of his in my collection is the intriguing historical epic, SALADIN AND THE GREAT CRUSADES (1963) – which ought to prove ideal for inclusion in my annual Good Friday marathon. Amazingly, rather than being fêted by his compatriots for competing at that year's Berlin Film Festival (where it lost to WILD STRAWBERRIES ), Chahine suffered the ignominy of having a film-goer spit in his face and the movie itself being banned until being rediscovered in the West 20 years later!
While the generic international title of CAIRO STATION does hint at the two schools of film-making to which the film could belong, i.e. Neo- realism and Film Noir, the original one of BAB EL HADID ("The Iron Gate" or literally "Door Of Iron") crystallizes the social, emotional and psychological trauma afflicting the main character of crippled newspaper-selling tramp Qinawi (an excellent performance by Chahine himself) who haunts the busy railway station lusting after clandestine lemonade seller Hanuma (Hind Rostom) who, however, is betrothed to a burly railroad worker and union man. Qinawi lives in a dingy room at the station that is literally covered with pin-up cut-outs of girls onto which he draws Hanuma's all-important bucket of lemonade bottles. The latter mercilessly leads Qinawi on but does not shirk from laughing in his face when he proposes to elope with her on the eve of her wedding. It is this rejection and imminent event which pushes him over the edge into violent retribution and mental meltdown.
The vivid recreation of the titular environment – with its many animated peddling characters and warring work factions – comes off as crude and chaotic during the film's "Neo-realist" first half but, once it centres on Qinawi and his fateful chasing of Hanuma, it becomes decidedly gripping and rewarding. I knew very little on the film's plot and themes going in and, frankly, I was not expecting things to turn out the way they did; while the railroad setting can be expected to remind one instantly of Jean Renoir's LA BETE HUMAINE (1938) and Fritz Lang's noir remake HUMAN DESIRE (1954), it was the surprising Hitchcockian (the knifing of the wrong girl whose body is being carried throughout the station in a trunk that leaks blood and almost topples open at one point) and Buñuelian (not just the fact that Rostom looks a lot like Lilia Prado but also Qinawi's obsession over her and a one-off display of foot-fetishism displayed at a much younger girl) elements which jumped out at me. Of course, I could not help recognizing several words in the dialogue - most effectively during the climactic cries of "Sikkina...sikkina" ("knife...knife) - given the Arabic language's semantic similarities with the Maltese one.
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