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Friday25 July 2014

Top 50 films for architects: The Iron Gate (Cairo Station)

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9: The Iron Gate (Cairo Station)

Director: Youssef Chahine, 1958

Chahine’s film evokes the hollow feeling of being left behind

The Iron Gate

An entire world in a station.

Confining yourself to a single building in which you discover the entire world is a literary archetype before it is a cinematic one, and there’s a special, perverse twist in applying such imprisonment to film, a medium practically defined by movement.

There’s another archetype at work in this Egyptian noir: the old rapport between railways and cinema — except that we’re stuck in the one part of the rail network that doesn’t go anywhere, the station.

Youssef Chahine’s film The Iron Gate — also known as Cairo Station or Bab el hadid (“iron gate” in Arabic) — is full of trains arriving and leaving, especially leaving, with the poignant hollow feeling of being left behind that this always provokes. The station population does a lot of hopping on and off the carriages here, usually in a rush, but they never actually go anywhere. They’re just selling drinks while the train is standing, or hiding from pursuers, or looking for a rival.

When things heat up, spaces under trains become a powerful focus, a dangerous place that people enter on the way somewhere, or a bleakness you brood on as it rolls past.

At the start the newsagent sees a lame boy sleeping rough, takes pity on him, finds him a cranny to live in and gives him the slenderest employment. The lame boy ends by convulsing the lives of everyone else, as if the lowest piece of disregarded rubbish from the station platform had taken its revenge. What a shock to discover afterwards that this frighteningly intense, practically wordless part is acted by the director.

Top 50 Films for Architects

  1. An Actor’s Revenge — Director: Kon Ichikawa, 1963
  2. Shoeshine — Director: Vittorio De Sica, 1946
  3. Pixote — Director: Hector Babenco, 1981
  4. Man With a Movie Camera — Director: Dziga Vertov, 1929
  5. The Saragossa Manuscript —  Director: Wojciech Has, 1965
  6. Once Upon a Time in the West —  Director: Sergio Leone, 1968
  7. Late Spring —  Director: Yasujiro Ozu, 1949
  8. Nil by Mouth —  Director: Gary Oldman, 1997
  9. The Iron Gate (Cairo Station) — Director: Youssef Chahine, 1958
  10. Apocalypse Now — Director: Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
  11. Spirited Away — Director: Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
  12. Cry of the City — Director: Robert Siodmak, 1948
  13. Faust — Director: Murnau, 1926
  14. The Mill and the Cross — Director: Lech Majewski, 2011
  15. My Childhood; My Ain Folk; My Way Home — director: BIll Douglas, 1972, 1973, 1978
  16. Madame de... — director: Max Ophuls, 1953

 

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