English Title: The Open Door
Original Title: El bab el maftuh
Genre: Drama, Family
Director: Henry Barakat
Music: Andre Ryder
Cinematography: Wahid Farid
An unmistakably female-liberating dissertation made by the late awards-winning Egyptian filmmaker Henry Barakat, THE OPEN DOORS is headlined by Barakat’s regular leading lady Faten Hamama, aka. the Lady of the Arab Screen, who fearlessly takes up the gauntlet to plays its heroine Leila, a modern-thinking, rebellious girl emerging from a middle class background, and Ms. Hamama has to act a dozen year junior to her real age since Leila has just graduated from high school in the beginning of this shackles-breaking story.
Set in the 50s when Egypt is ever-so-confined by the patriarchal sexism and insurgent political scramble, the film opens with Leila dauntlessly plunges into a student protest and steals the limelight with a fervid feminist manifesto from the school principal. But when she returns home, what awaits her is the lash and scolding from her severe father, and she has zero chance to defend herself but for a passive hunger strike in the aftermath. No sooner comes the comfort from her cousin Isam (Youssef) who lives upstairs than her glumness dissipates, but their budding romance meets with a blunt halt when Isam morphs into a weak-minded slouch beaten by his own base impulse. That’s when Hussain (Selim) aptly comes into the picture, a friend of Leila’s brother with a revolutionary persuasion, who is willing to fight for a good cause, including rekindle Leila’s affection even when she declares that she is an official non-believer of love after the disappointment from Isam.
The plot meanders into another phase when Hussain conveniently goes to study abroad, leaving Leila mulling over her mixed feelings. A wake-up call bleeps when Leila pliantly condones the arranged marriage with her philosophy professor Dr. Fouad (Moursy), a stern man who can ply her a stable life, but is knee-deep in his backward view reckoning wife merely as a biddable and serviceable object, on top of that, she doesn’t love him at all. At that moment, Hussain again precisely resurfaces as a guiding light, a right choice for her to make the one most important decision of her life in the emotionally buttressed finale, to catch that train and pursue what her heart desires as a freestanding woman, once and for all.
Mingled with unrest of Egypt’s touchy milieu of that time, Leila’s inner conflict, the perplexity of her nascent independence and the indecision of her true feelings, all have been routinely laid out with considerable flair, attendant with an effusive score dutifully pointing out where should audience anticipate on the emotional gamut apropos of the narrative directions. Ms. Hamama’s performance is highly absorbing to say the least (although she never fully exudes that kind of effervescence and impressionability pertaining to Leila’s youthful age), but the same cannot be referred to the patchy supporting cast, some of which is either unexpectedly wooden or risibly playacting. For all that, Baraka’s feature still appeals as an aptly-produced ethnic curio glistening with its progressive, yet more urgently relevant message.