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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Door to the Sun – Pt. 2

Film Review: Door to the Sun – Part II

By Sonia Nettnin

See also… Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Door to the Sun – Pt. 1

(Photo courtesy of CPFF )

The epic, feature film, “Door to the Sun,” explores the life journeys of several Palestinians in the Diaspora whose lives weave together in Part II, The Return.

Based on Professor Elias Khoury’s magnum opus, saga novel, Bab El Shams or Door to the Sun, (1998) the author and co-screenwriter develops characters whose winding, life paths cross after the tragedy of Al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, into the next generation. Khoury explores the psychological impact of the Palestinian’s expulsion from their homeland and their daily oppression from Israeli military occupation. Yousry Nasrallah directed the film.

Although Khoury’s saga novel relies more on the classical, Arabic way of storytelling, like the oral tales of Shahrazad in The Thousand and One Nights, Khoury adapted the novel’s narrative structure for film presentation. Nasrallah delivers the most crucial half-century of Palestinian history – and his directorial interpretation is profound.

Khalil narrates his life story into Younes’ ear. Khalil is a storyteller, like Shahrazad in Nights, except the film takes over Khalil’s narration through character dialog and visual image. Khalil tells Younes stories to keep him alive. The film uses flashback to recreate the characters’ life stories.

In the second installment, history unfolds the 1964 creation of the PLO, the 1976 Lebanese Civil War, the 1982 expulsion of the PLO from Beirut, and the Sabra and Shatila massacres of over 2,000 Palestinians by Christian Phalangists, aided by the Israeli Army. Decades of warfare generate continued interest in the resistance movement throughout the Arab World.

Khoury develops several, female characters, including Shams, a distraught and angry woman abused by her former husband who has her own platoon. She kills a man and receives the consequences. Khalil’s love and obsession for Shams leads him into trouble with the PLO.

Then there is Om Hassan, an elderly woman whose first-hand experience with Al-Nakba brings her back to her old family’s home in Galilee, now occupied by a Jewish woman. A flood of memories overwhelms Om when she discovers her family’s brown, water jug. In the backyard is the “bayyara,” a small orchard of oranges Om’s family harvested long ago.

After she carries away a branch she says: “They’re not for eating, they’re Palestine.”

As a child, Khalil’s mother, Najwa, abandoned him because his biological father, Yassne died. His paternal grandmother psychologically abused his mother. As a result, Om raised Khalil as her son and Younes was like a father to him.

“You snatched me up and threw me into the revolution,” Khalil tells Younes. At an early age, Khalil trained with an armed resistance group called the “Sons of Galilee.” For several months, Khalil spends all of his time caring for Younes, who lies comatose in Galilee Hospital. Near the window is a copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” where he reads a letter from his long-lost mother. Since air-wave restrictions do not allow calls from Lebanon to Ramallah, Khalil struggles to find a way to reach her. He cannot enter the West Bank and Gaza without a permit from Israel, and calling her is a challenge. Living in the Diaspora is not just about borders: it is a daily struggle with the behemoth of Israeli policy and implementation.

Khalil goes so far as to stand Younes in front of him and move him, a human mannequin, in a pretend dance.

A French actress and her fiancé director enter the scene. They ask for a tour of Shatila Refugee Camp for a Jean Genet play entitled, “Four Hours in Shatilla,” which is about the 1982 massacre. As a survivor of the massacre, Khalil exhibits post-traumatic stress disorder when he sees the cross of Lebanese forces around the neck of a man in an East Beirut restaurant. Selem Assaad, another survivor of the massacre, sells shampoo that turns white hair dark. He remembers the lime powder firemen spread on decomposing, swollen bodies in the massacre. Most likely, Selem suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder also.

In a flashback scene, Nahila has her final meeting with her husband Younes and says: “…and the same fire that burns us burns you.”

For years, Nahila remained obedient to Younes’ wishes. Yet, the romantic dimension of their marriage wore off for her long ago. She revolts against him, and she tells him how she really feels about her lifetime struggle of raising children as a single mother under occupation. The woman’s perspective shines forth in their interaction because Nahila talks about the diverse roles she played over the years. It tired her. Nahila gives voice to the thousands of Palestinian woman like her, who play single-mother, father, provider, and nurturer throughout these political events and tragedies. Some of them experience domestic abuse, like Shams. They take crap from the soldiers, who know they live without a husband. They deal with it because society expects it of them.

While bearing the burden of socio-economic hardships that result from occupation, a Palestinian woman, such as Nahila, is the hearthstone of a dispossessed house. Nahila’s wish is that the cave where she and Younes shared unoccupied space as man and wife on their native land will be blocked from stones, “…because it’s the only free place in Palestine where Israelis have not set foot.”

Even though Khalil’s storytelling appropriates Nahila’s life experiences, Nahila represents Palestinian women, whose determination enabled life under decades of oppression possible. Through her heartfelt emotions, her family survives.


Directed by: Yousry Nasrallah
Produced by: Humbert Balsan
Co-Produced by: ARTE France; Ognon Pictures
Novel by: Elias Khoury
Starring: Rim Turki; Orwa Nyrabeya; Bassel Khayyat; Nadira Omra; Hala Omran.
Music: Marcel Khalife; Tamer Karawan
Country of production: France/Egypt
Year: 2004
Language: Arabic, French and English, with English subtitles
Minutes: 139


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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