'The Open Door': An Iconic Egyptian Movie About Women's Liberation

Based on a Novel Written by the Author Latifa Al-Zayat

Laila (Faten Hamama) and Hussain (Saleh Selim) in ‘The Open Door.’
Laila (Faten Hamama) and Hussain (Saleh Selim) in ‘The Open Door.’

'The Open Door': An Iconic Egyptian Movie About Women's Liberation

Confronting societal reactionary traditions that humiliate women parallel with the fight against occupation is the core of the story. 

Although many years have passed since its release and all the fluctuations that Egyptian society has witnessed, such as political, social, and cultural changes, the issue discussed by the film 'The Open Door' remains present in Egypt. How does Egyptian society see women? What is the extent of women's freedom and independence today?

The novel succeeded in highlighting a social problem that was prevalent at that time, namely, "women's freedom" and its creativity to link it to "the freedom of the homeland." 

In 1960, the novelist Latifa Al-Zayat wrote the novel 'The Open Door,' and since it was published, it was considered a milestone in Egyptian literature for various reasons. The most crucial reason is that the novel argues the political and social situation in Egypt in the mid-twentieth century through a courageous treatment for the story and a representation of different characters from the Egyptian society at that time.

The novel was made into a movie in 1963, directed by Henry Barakat and starring artists Faten Hamama and Saleh Selim, and it achieved great success and won the Best Film and Best Actress awards for Faten Hamama at the Jakarta Film Festival. Later, the novel was translated into English.

The movie mainly presents to us the life of an Egyptian girl from a middle-class family, Laila, the key and most critical character in the story. The author took the character as a symbol of oppression and resistance. The events are in a parallel line with the historical events that Egypt went through, starting with the 1952 revolution, until the Tripartite Aggression on Egypt. The political events that Egypt witnessed at that time impacts the protagonist, who is searching for freedom in a reactionary patriarchal society. These events were the flame that raised her voice.

'What is the extent of women's freedom and independence women enjoying? This question can be answered through Laila's struggle between what society expects and what Egyptian woman really wants during the movie. And unfortunately, this answer still exists now in Egypt. 

Faten Hamama and Nahed Samir in ‘The Open Door.’

Laila, the smart girl, who is full of energy but living in a traditional society that only expects submissiveness and obedience from women, struggles to get her freedom as a human being, and she also engages in the national movement liberate her country.

The core idea revolves around the difficulties she faces in her society in general and from her family specifically. Despite the liberation of the Egyptian girl from many previously imposed restrictions, girls are going through constraints now, whether in the way of thinking or accepting the traditions governing society. 

But Laila's life develops, and her view changes with every political event the country is going through, beginning with the Egyptian revolution against the English occupation to revolt with the schoolgirls. But her father, mother, and even her brother meet this revolution with domination

Laila meets Hussain, her brother's friend, who represents the proper path in her life, true love, and a reasonable opinion. The man who opens the door for her to release her energy and does not force her to do anything, but instead gives her the opportunity to choose and push her forward because we do not own each other, and love is the opposite meaning of controlling and forcing, and the true love is the love who helps us find ourselves, but the lack of confidence Laila has and the circumstances separates them. 

Laila (Faten Hamama) and Hussain (Saleh Selim) in ‘The Open Door.’

The storyline reviews many different-minded personalities who contradict themselves. Different models of men appear in Laila's life, and they are often present in every girl's life, where we find the violent, authoritarian father, who suppresses the girl when she engages in political activity and the open-minded brother, who believes in the theories of freedom and equality, but is still confined to the culture in which he grew up.

We also see the professor who works in university but sees in Laila nothing but an obedient wife, easy to shape and subjugate according to what he wants. Her cousin and her first love, who sees nothing but a body in her, are affected only by sexual lust.

Laila's internal struggle between her adherence to freedom and her fear of her father and society continues. But then he appears, the conscious and patriotic youth with principles, who wants her freedom and independent entity just as he aspires for his country. 

The story also supports the idea of love and its strength. The messages from Hussain to Laila after he traveled abroad for studying are supportive of discouraging her from marrying the wrong person. Laila decides to leave her fiancé because she discovers a double-standard personality. Many messages were introduced, and they are about the idea of ​​women's liberty and the man's role to be a motive and supporter.

Faten Hamama in ‘The Open Door.’

Hussain wrote Laila a letter in which his sincere words summarized the strong message of the story:

"You are miserable because the life in you did not die but remained alive, struggling to liberate. Do not be trapped in the narrow circle; it will narrow you until it suffocates you or turns you into a dull creature without sense and thinking.

Go, my love, connect your being to others, millions of others, to our good land and people.

And you will find love, more incredible than you and me, great love, beautiful love… a love that no one can take away from you, a love that you will always find echoes in the ear and which is reflected in the heart, and through which man grows and strengthens: love of the homeland and love of the people. So go, my dear, open the door wide and leave it open.

And in the open road, you will find me, waiting for you, because I trust in you, and I trust in your ability to liberate, and because what I can do is only waiting... waiting for you."

The end came with a powerful and emotional scene simultaneously, and with a great victory to Laila's will; the decision to listen to herself and choose her road. This road is open to all women because they are humans with a whole entity to do what they believe in and with the person they choose. 

Laila decides to go to Port Said with Hussain and help the war wounded. To join the confrontation against the occupation, which is also the fight for her independence. They are the same because freedom still has the same meaning in any situation. 

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