“Can’t Stop Marathon” Review #10: Cairo Station, aka The Iron Gate (1958, Chahine)

August 29, 2011 — Leave a comment

Youssef Chahine’s Cairo Station is a fairly conventional film. The outcome of the plot is easily predictable right from the start. The pacing is simple and brisk. The story itself is as basic as you can get with this sort of film. Where Cairo Station is elevated into something above and beyond the stale and mediocre is in that very simplicity. The story may be nothing new, but it is also played out very well. The very definition of a good story, well told.

What is that simple story? Cairo Station is about a man named Qinawi who works at a news stand at the train station. He clearly has some sort of mental issues, as well as an extremely unhealthy obsession with Hanuma, a woman who illegally sells pop to travellers. Qinawi attempts to propose to Hanuma, but instead of fully turning him down, Hanuma let’s him carry on his fantasies to a certain degree. At the same time, she is planning on marrying another man. As you can expect, Qinawi goes a little mad and violent, but I won’t spoil anything beyond that. I’m sure you can imagine the general direction anyway.

I wouldn’t say that Cairo Station is a particularly stand-out film. In a lot of ways it can be brushed off as nothing special. But what makes it really work is that Chahine enters the story through various stories that are all going on at the same time at this train station. While there really is only one major plot, the film feels alive, as though all the other characters at the station have their own little stories and lives going on that we only catch glimpses of. The world of the film feels fleshed out, and it’s one that very easy to spend time in. When Qinawi is pushed past his limits, his actions actually feel disruptive to the weird harmony of that world. It’s all quite masterfully handled.

And that’s why I liked Cairo Station. It’s masterfully handled. It’s a good story, no doubt, but it is also a well told story. It’s engaging and fun and suspenseful and all that jazz. I don’t know how much pathos I got from it. Certainly very little compared to other movies about obsession, like Vertigo, for example. Still, it’s a film I thoroughly enjoyed watching, and I’d very easily watch it again. It’s that sort of film.

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