Cairo Station (Youssef Chahine / Egypt, 1958):
(Bab el Hadid; The Iron Gate)

The aftermath of the Suez Crisis, elucidated by Youssef Chahine in a furious sketch gleaned from Lang noir. Steam, machinery, knickknacks, and scramblers fill the Cairo station vortex; when repression lives next to free-geysering sensuality, a body is bound to turn up in the luggage. Each of the three sides of the triangle is laid out with strenuous frankness: Chahine as the limping newspaper seller in his shack papered with saucy cheesecake, Hind Rostom as the flashing femme hawking soft drinks, Farid Shawqi as the muscular porter pushing for a workers' union. The crippled outsider gazes at a couple of young ingénues with envy, then with simmering desire at Rostom's scampering spitfire -- he offers his mother's necklace and dreams of bucolic domesticity but she turns him down, they all "got quite used to trains and noise." When the humid heroine jumps into a rock 'n' roll frenzy and a feminist rally with the same abandon, Chahine establishes his plotline as Sadie Thompson whirling through transitory Egypt. ("Cursed be such modern idiocies," a staid cleric scoffs, just as uncomprehendingly.) Tension accelerates: Chugging trains shift from objects of fate to anxiety signifiers, along with a decapitated magazine cutout, a Coke bottle smashed against a wall, a shiv dangling before Chahine's fervid eyes. It builds to a climax ferociously amalgamated from La Bête Humaine and Buñuel's Susana, where a culture's internal turmoil is exposed only to be carted away in a straitjacket. Egyptian censors saw only the tawdriness and despair of the work, and Chahine's film was banned for years rather than heralded as the excoriating classic it is. With Hassan el Baroudi, and Abdel Aziz Kahlil. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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