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Souad : A film echoes the ills of an Egyptian youth struggling to live

Amman Film Festival

Souad
(Photos: Handouts from RFC)
Souad, Ayten Amin’s feature film, paints the picture of the rigid family relationships between young girls and parents, but also situates two sisters in a conservative social reality.اضافة اعلان

The film, which will be screened today at 6 pm at Taj Cinema as part of Amman Film Festival, competing in the Arab narrative film category, speaks for millions of young people in post-revolutionary Egypt who spend their formative years in a state of political and ethical limbo.

Souad, a young student from the city of Mansoura, in the northern Nile Delta, between Alexandria and Cairo, seeks ways out of the incompatibility between her growing sexual desire and societal norms. Souad is the film’s main protagonist, and is built up as such from the start, dramatically and through the atmosphere and image design.

When Souad literally disappears from the screen in the middle of the film, Egyptian director Amin breaks a taboo in two senses: one cinematic and one social. This surprising turn deprives the story and the viewers of their heroine and at the same time brings to the big screen a topic that only gained public attention in the years after the Egyptian revolution in 2011.



The film begins in a bus, an important social, regionally. Nineteen-year-old Souad (Bassant Ahmed) shows photos and regales strangers with stories about her dear boyfriend, Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem), who is doing his military service in the Sinai Peninsula. After a quick change of bus, we see Souad who continues to converse, but the story has changed: Ahmed is older, he studies medicine and descends from a long line of doctors. We immediately feel sorry for Souad as we realize that her lies are her survival mechanism, and not the expression of an unhealthy character.
The film ... speaks for millions of young people in post-revolutionary Egypt who spend their formative years in a state of political and ethical limbo.
Her life in the countryside of Zagazig, filmed with a camera in focus and shown through suffocating images reminiscent of the cinema of the Dardenne brothers, is a pressure cooker of social tensions ready to explode. Parental understanding is limited, and her main social circle, which includes Wessam (Hager Mahmoud), more romantically experienced, is well-meaning, but also more likely to provoke her and drive her crazy. On top of that, she seethes and agonizes over Ahmed’s indifference to her love messages, which he leaves unanswered, a feeling only exacerbated by the social media smokescreen (where he presents himself as a “content creator” for Facebook and TikTok working in trendy Alexandria... in short, his job is literally to invent new public personas for people).

Following a tragic breakup for Souad, the film turns its attention to her younger sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), more self-confident, who sets out on a secret trip to Alexandria to meet Ahmed in person, something Souad has been denied throughout the story. This change of angle is accompanied by a new title appearing on the screen, as if designating a new beginning for the film, and we realize then that the film is in fact a multi-faceted “anthology” which initially fooled us into believing that we should expect a more restricted study of a single character.



Rabab and Ahmed strolling through the streets of Alexandria begin to form a strange duo that almost looks like a couple, and the atmosphere of the film changes, beginning to evoke more Before Sunrise or New York-Miami, a transition more fantasized and improbable than all the developments that had come before.

Like the best humanist directors, Amin manages to modulate the different tones and create a narrative arc that evokes the triumph of life and optimism over tragedy, even if the gaze focuses on the supposedly disastrous effects of the social networks, and is somewhat sensationalized and awkward.
The audacity of the film is evident in how it initiates a new, unexpected journey at a time when the narrative framework seemed well established.
It is also true that these two traits are typical of adolescence, so it only remains for us to salute this work, which pays homage to youthful anguish instead of adopting the dismissive or condescending attitude of so many other films.

As close as possible to the youth of a teenager, the film begins as a documentary around a camera that is discreet and modest but omnipresent. The film does not seem to have any other pretensions than to get as close as possible to the daily life of a modern-day Egyptian teenager whose virtual relationships seem to occupy a lot of her time and her emotions and integrate her into the dynamics of the rest of the world. Her daily life also includes her place in a conservative family where women are condemned to serve men. Her younger sister remains admiring and will continue her journey beyond her constraints.

The story has two highlights; each part is carried by a sister whose gaze enriches the portrait of the other.



The audacity of the film is evident in how it initiates a new, unexpected journey at a time when the narrative framework seemed well established.

The narrative reversal proves to be of great expressive force in the service of the movie character.

Young women are the protagonists of this film which delicately brushes on questions about the contemporary world caught between the promises of emancipation in the virtual world and the prosaic disappointments of physical society.


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