New Internationalist

Closed Doors (Al Abwab Al Moghlaka)

Issue 335

Mohamed is 13 and wants to be a pilot. Supported only by his divorced mother, Fatma, who works as a cleaner, and struggling at his Cairo school, his prospects aren’t good. When his teacher bars him, ostensibly for watching girls outside the class, Mohamed’s ordered life starts to unravel. He’s pulled between claustrophobic home life, the comradeship, intellectual securities – and chauvinist politics – of a local mosque and, with a truanting school friend, the excitement and seeming easy pickings of life on the streets.

Closed Doors is a coming-of-age drama that deals subtly with social issues – poverty, privilege, religiously sanctioned sexual chauvinism, endemic corruption. There’s fine ensemble acting weaving the relationships between Mohamed and the people around him, and although his story is at its centre, it easily and unobtrusively reveals their life options too. Fatma struggles with her employers’ exploitation and humiliation of her. Zeinab, her closest friend and neighbour, pretends to sell cosmetics, but works as a prostitute. Mohamed’s teacher, outwardly unsympathetic, is a sensitive and deeply disappointed man.

Hetata directs his own script with flair. Visual cues nicely tie characters to their social environment. The camera in the evocative opening sequence finally focuses on a schoolgirl’s hair under the mandatory head scarf. In another beautiful scene, when Mohamed is showering, marks on the shower walls echo the soap streaks on his body, and wed him to the walls of his home.

The tragic finale convincingly ties together the story lines and underlines the film’s groundbreaking openness about sexuality. Hetata is clearly a writer and director of great promise.

Malcolm Lewis

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