a.k.a. Al abwab al moghlaka
language. Egypt, 1999. Unrated. 109 minutes.
Cast: Sawsan Badr, Ahmed Azmi, Mahmoud
Hemeida, Manal Afifi, Ahmed Fouad Selim
|Grade: B||Review by Jeff Vorndam|
he Closed Doors marks the feature film debut of Atef Hetata. It's a promising effort–Hetata has a knack for exploding a social problem onscreen to powerful effect. He constructs his film like a time bomb, and the often humorous action never completely conceals the feeling of impending detonation. The laughs are uneasy, because though the situations are comical, the anger in the protagonist's eyes is real.
Sawsan Badr plays Mohamad, a teenager teetering on the brink. On the one hand, he is a naive and sexually curious young man, intrigued by nearly every woman he meets–including his mother. On the other, he is a budding Islamic Fundamentalist, and the notion of sex is impure, particularly if it involves his mother. This is the essential personal conflict that drives the film. Which side will win the war for his mind–the liberal and exploratory side or the conservative and punitive side?
At the beginning of the movie, Mohamad's father has just left the family, leaving Mohamad alone with his mother. She begins to date his tutor, which disturbs Mohamad. It's hinted that Mohamad may be jealous of his mother's affection. He stares at her when she's not looking in a way that reminded me of Jeremy Davies' character in Spanking the Monkey. He's confused and repelled, yet he wants her. Mohamad's shame in desiring his mother leads to an increasing reliance on Fundamentalist dogma to soothe his mind. He turns his mother into an icon of chastity and places her on a pedestal. She is not to see anyone, and she must not leave the house unveiled, he says.
Mohamad's mother must leave the house because she must work to support herself and her son. Mohamad is forceful though, and obtains a job selling flowers on the street to make ends meet. His mentors at the extreme religious sect tell Mohamad that he must be in control of both of their lives, that a good Muslim shows his discipline and his faith through this control. Ascribing more and more to the religious fanaticism of these Fundamentalists, Mohamad arranges a marriage for his mother with one of the sect leaders and a marriage for himself with one of leaders' daughters. I won't divulge any further plot details, save to say that extreme beliefs beget extreme acts.
Atef Hetata pares the story down to its essentials, not straying or dallying during its progression down a path of fanaticism. The acting is all-around convincing and natural. Badr goes from wide-eyed and wet-eared to wild-eyed and dogmatic with unerring conviction. However, The Closed Doors is unlikely to break from the film festival circuit. It's no spectacle, and its hard-bitten realism isn't going to win it a wide audience. Seekers of intelligent social commentary should keep their eyes peeled for it just in case.
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