Sog., Scen.: Abdel Hay Adib, Mohamed Abou Youssef. F.: Alvise Orfanelli. M.: Kamal Abul Ela. Scgf.: Gabriel Karraze. Mus.: Fouad El-Zaheri. Int.: Youssef Chahine (Kenaoui), Hind Rostom (Hanouma), Farid Chawki (Abou Serib). Prod.: Gabriel Talhami per Films Gabriel Talhami. DCP. D.: 74’. Bn.
In Cairo’s Central Station, a crippled beggar named Kenaoui works as a newspaper seller, while lusting after pretty girls. He is most violently obsessed with Hanouma, a lovely and curvaceous lemonade seller. But she prefers a handsome, well-built porter, the shop steward for all the lowest paid workers in the station. Kenaoui’ is blinded by unrequited love and his lubricious obsession soon rebels against rejection, tipping the story into tragedy.
Shot on location in Cairo’s Central Station, this great film was booed at its Egyptian premiere, including by Chahine’s own family members. Playing the poor, sexually obsessed beggar of Cairo himself, Chahine severely disrupted Egyptian cinema’s tradition of sugary love stories and melodramas. Over time, the film has become a major classic of Arab cinema, the embodiment of a nascent Egyptian neorealist style. The truth is that Bab al-hadid offers a brilliant combination of genres, from documentary (the inner life of the station is posited as a microcosm of Egyptian society torn between modernity and tradition), to social realism (the porters’ strike) and the cop thriller. Youssef Chahine loved to say that it was television that made this film: the elites of Egyptian cinema may have hated it, but ordinary Egyptians loved it.