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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: The Fourth Room

Film Review: The Fourth Room

By Sonia Nettnin At The Chicago Palestine Film Festival

Nabil is a shop owner in Ramallah who has rooms that provide refuge and relaxation. Nabil, like most Palestinian men, is a hard-working and an honorable man" (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

Director Nahed Awwad's documentary, "The Fourth Room," explores the life of Nabil Jameel, a Palestinian shop owner who lives in Ramallah.

A man in his sixties, Nabil rents several locked rooms. He is the only person with the keys. Although happily married, Nabil's rooms provide stability amid the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Born in the Palestinian village of Deir Ghassaneh, located 25 km NW of Ramallah in the West Bank, Nabil and his family fled Ramleh during the 1948 war. In April 1950, Nabil's parents rented a shop in Ramallah, where Nabil continues to sell books, cards and knick-knacks. For 55 years, his life has revolved around the shop.

The director has an established rapport with Nabil, so when she asks Nabil questions it feels more like an intimate conversation to which the audience is privy. However, it is clear Nabil trusts the director will not betray his privacy because she does not enter the rooms entirely.

For Nabil the rooms are a place of refuge and nostalgia. The rooms contain books, papers and furniture he has collected throughout his life. In the past Nabil drove his family in a red car to Deir Ghassaneh for extended visits. In the village he filmed the family enjoying the tree orchards and wildlife.

During the past, several years the family has not visited the village because the trip - a 25-minute drive - is now a day-long trip involving Israeli checkpoints and dirt mounds blocking the roads. "When I talk about the old days I feel pain," Nabil says.

Years ago Nabil and his brothers had blueprints drawn for an apartment building they were going to have built so that all of the family could live close together. However, the political and economic instability of the conflict created enough apprehension within the family that they did not build the home. Money is scarce for such a large investment because the families do not know if they will be able to live in the building. Palestinians need Israeli housing permits to build homes, otherwise they are considered illegal and can be demolished at any time. In 1948, many Palestinian families lost their homes and their land. When Nabil talks his face shows a man who has lived through many ordeals.

A couple of the rooms have been damaged by Israeli forces, which is another reason why Nabil does not risk building a house when it could be destroyed. In the meantime the rooms are temporary places of relaxation and contemplation away from family and friends. Perhaps the rooms combined are the house Nabil could not build. He says he feels relief when he shares his feelings. In front of the camera he is candid and he has an honest awareness about himself. He talks straight from the heart, wishes his customers strength and emanates a warm disposition.

Nabil, like most Palestinian men, is a hard-working and an honorable man.

The unknown location and contents of Nabil's fourth room is not mysterious or strange at all. In fact it makes psychological sense that people in difficult, life situations find ways to cope with pain. Oppression hurts people and affects their life-decisions. When violence exists people seek refuge.

Also, when people marry and have family they seek personal spaces to maintain their personal stability and individuality. They need a place for personal items and privacy. Unfortunately the Israeli Army invaded Nabil's home and violated his space.

If a person requires a few locked rooms to keep his chin up then so be it - keys unlock doors to survival.

-This film (in Arabic with English subtitles) will be showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center, located at 164 N. State St. for the 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival on Friday, May 19 at 6 P.M. and Monday, May 22 at 8:15 P.M. For more information please visit

Camera: Steff Bossert
Sound: Ashraf Al-Mashni
Editing: Nahed Awwad
Translation: Peter Schafer
Tom Kay
Collection's mentors:
Fernand Melgar (directing)
Steff Bossert (camera)
Thomas Bachmann (editing)
Christine Ferrier (production)
Jean Perret (history of documentary)
Production: Joelle Come
Nicholas Wadimoff
Executive producers Palestine: Al-Ma'Mal Foundation for Contemporary
Sami Batrawi
Issa Freij
Coordination Switzerland: Joelle Bertossa
Production assistant: Valerie Leuba
Duration: 25 minutes


U.S. journalist and film critic Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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