Bab as-sma Maftouh (A Door to the Sky) is a 1988 Moroccan feature film, directed by Farida Benlyazid. The film has been widely watched and written about. In this article I will focus mainly on the issue of gender in the film focusing on the protagonist Nadia, the voice of religion and tradition Kirana and Bahia as a former self of Nadia. In the light of Suzanne Gauch’s article “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Transnational Feminist Spectatorship and Farida Benlyazid’s A Door to the Sky.”
From the very beginning we understand that the film has a spiritual agenda. The setting is in the Moroccan spiritual city: Fez. The protagonist, Nadia, returns from Paris to Fez where her father lies dying. Soon after, in the funeral, where we see only women, Nadia is wearing a white jellaba and covering her hair and listening to Kirana’s chanting of the Quran. Eventually Nadia develops a close relationship with Kirana, who, interestingly, represents traditions and religion.
Under Kirana’s guidance, Nadia gradually discovers and later embraces her Moroccan Muslim cultural and spiritual heritage, leaving behind the Western French identity, knowing that she was living in France and is from a French mother, which is manifested through breaking up with her French boyfriend. Nadia in the beginning used to smoke and drink alcohol, later we see her praying.
Nadia decides to turn the family house into a zawiya, a shelter and spiritual center for women. Her siblings, however refuse and prefer to sell it because “it needs a lot of restorations.” Towards the end of the film, the spirit of Ba Sissi, an old friend of the family who died years ago, leads Nadia to a treasure buried in the garden, which will allow her to purchase the house. Later Nadia discovers her healing powers as a shrifa (a descendant of the prophet Muhammad), she uses this gift to cure the ill women whose problems are seemingly resolved once they are in the zawiya. Bahia, a hippie-like Moroccan girl, is introduced to the zawiya. Bahia, as Gauch argues, is a reflection of Nadia’s past. Unlike all women in the zawiya who are wearing traditional clothes and veils, Bahia is very westernized coming from France, she speaks French and has tattoos. She is looked down upon in the zawiya, only Nadia who sympathizes with her and invited her to her room.
In the end of the films, Nadia leaves the zawiya because her spirit cannot flourish there. She and Abdelkarim leave the zawiya and the city of Fez.
Benlyazid presents us with a spiritual transnational form of feminism where she develops the protagonist as an individual. She offers a soft version of Islam away from the political radical one. This explains why the film has widely circulated in the West and was praised by western feminists including Ella Shuhat. It is perplexing, however, that the film is not available in Morocco. Gauch similarly argues that the film is for a Western audience where it is recommended to be taught and to be watched by foreigners coming to Morocco. The film, for Gauch, becomes like a tourist guidebook.
Hamid Tbatou, a Moroccan cinema critic, believes that the film folklorizes (and Orientalizes) the Moroccan Culture through architecture, exotic places such as hammams and souks. The film provides images that please and flirt with the western expectations, and presents Islam as little more than magic.