The key, a historical symbol used by the Palestinian people to represent their diaspora from 1948 to today, is the title Rakan Mayasi gave to his short film presented at the 29th Medfilm Festival. The celebration of Middle Eastern cinema ended on Sunday, November 19 in Rome.
In a twist on the home invasion genre, Mayasi’s drama, adapted from a short story by Anwar Hamed, sees an Israeli family tormented by a mysterious and disturbing sound that slowly reveals itself to the audience like the sound of a key in a lock. It’s as if someone outside, who has the key to the house, is trying to return. It is a clear political metaphor, especially for those who, like director Mayasi, are among the more than seven million Palestinians living in the diaspora.
Mayasi spoke The Hollywood reporter Roma about The key and the role of Palestinian cinema in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attacks and the ongoing war in Gaza.
In The key, your perspective as a director is Palestinian, but the characters are Israeli. Where does this choice of perspective come from?
The characters responding to the sound are Israelis, but the real protagonist is invisible. And it is the sound behind the door, the sound of the key in the lock: the right of Palestinians to return home. I felt very inspired by this aspect of the story, as its elements are a means of playing with sound and image.
Your short film is based on the short story of the same name by Anwar Hamed. What attracted you to this topic?
I was already working on a science fiction short film when I came across this story and was fascinated by it. Many things caught my attention, including the fantasy thriller genre, the Palestinian perspective on Israeli characters, the fact that the off-screen sound is the driving dynamic of the story, the subtlety of the entire plot, and most importantly, the main message. . The right of Palestinians to return home to their land is told in a new and creative way. All these elements convinced me to immediately contact Anwar Hamed to adjust his text. It’s a daring story that I wanted to turn into a daring short film.
The violence in the short film is implied but not shown; at most it can be heard in the sound of gunshots. What were your aesthetic references in its construction?
It was in the original story. Guns are widespread in Israeli society, so it is not a surprising element. The violence in the story and in the film builds up gradually, in accordance with the dramatic need for increasing tension.
Given that The key belongs to a subgenre of horror, that of the home invasion, which is often linked to political themes. Was the aesthetic of the film guided by the nature of its message?
For me and the other seven million Palestinians in the diaspora, Israel will not allow us to return to our land. There seems to be a deep fear of our return. So I wouldn’t call it a home invasion, but rather a return of the original residents. The very idea of putting a key in the lock, turning it and attempting to open a passage is an act of return, not an invasion. There is no violence upon returning home. On the contrary, it is a way to enter the consciousness of the settlers. Let us not forget that the key is already a historic Palestinian symbol, the symbol of a right we have been claiming since 1948.
The Israeli family uses sedatives to try to sleep and ignore the sound of the key. It’s another powerful metaphor.
One of the main themes of the film has been forgotten. Israeli society has no memory of the suffering and rights of Palestinians. This is also called the plot of The key unfolds. The sedatives are added to reinforce this idea, as the sound of the night tears through the unconscious conscience.
As a Palestinian director, do you think anything has changed since October 7 in the way you can express your experiences?
The priority now is the ceasefire. I and all the Palestinians I know have been so emotionally and mentally immersed in what has happened since October 7 that I have not had a chance to think about it. Certainly, the voice of Palestine has not been given space to be heard in the mainstream media for a long time. And we fear that even in independent spaces, on artistic platforms and at festivals, this voice will be silenced, censored or deprived of the right to speak in public and in institutional contexts. I hope that doesn’t happen. On the other hand, there seems to be more awareness. More and more people are interested in the Palestinian cause, interested in supporting our rights.
What do you think is the role of cinema in telling the story of Palestine and Palestinians today?
Film is powerful. It transcends many arts as it delivers a stronger and more complete audiovisual experience. Movies are made to last, and cinema has the ability to capture our present for the future. We Palestinians are no exception in this regard. There are very important Palestinian films that have given our voice to the world, because cinema is not a news item on television. It is much more metaphysical and certainly has a greater creative and emotional impact.