Soula A night in the life of an Algerian single mother

(Photos: imdb)
Soula, a debut feature film by Algerian director Salah Esaad, explores the true-life experiences of protagonist Soula Bahri (played by herself) as she navigates Algeria as a single mother.اضافة اعلان

In the film, which will be screened on Wednesday at the Royal Film Commission’s outdoor amphitheater, Soula faces an unknown fate as she finds herself and her baby homeless after her father kicked her out of the family home.

Throughout her struggles to find a safe space, from a night spent on the road, jumping from car to car and stranger to stranger, to the after-sunset encounters on the streets of Algeria, Sula strives to change her fate. But fate has another plan.

In Algeria, stories like Soula’s are shrouded in taboo. Extramarital childbirth is rejected by conservative Algerian society, which views single mothers through a lens of shame and scandal. From family members to the community at large, all expect the life of a single mother to be discreet, hidden in the shadows.

The plot of this film verges on the banal; after being kicked out, Soula’s only concern is finding a place to spend the night with her baby. But she is not what people consider the “ideal victim” — the innocent and genuine young girl diverted from good morals by an ill-intentioned man. Instead, she is a fake blonde with fake nails smoking cigarettes in the back seat to lull her anxiety, which renders her too vulgar to earn the empathy of moral society.
The faces of the characters beyond are rarely seen, but their voices reach the audience, leaving features and expressions to the imagination.
The film premiered at the International Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2021. It received the Black Iris Award for Best Arab Feature-Length Narrative Film at the third edition of the Amman International Film Festival. It also won Best Film and Best Actress at Malmo Arab Film Festival, Best Feature Film at Beirut International Women Film Festival, Best Film at the African Asian Latin American Film Festival (Milano, Italy), and Best Film and Best Actress at Festival Oriental du Film de Genève.

From the confines of a vehicle
Finally, after a few hours of searching, Soula finds a roof to shelter her daughter. In the meantime, the tops of the cars — she hopes — will shelter her from the streets of Batna city. As soon as night falls, these streets become the exclusive hunting ground for men, tracking the young woman with vile looks, insults, and headlights.

The camera reaches beyond the car windows during this long night to show the passing lights and highways. The faces of the characters beyond are rarely seen, but their voices reach the audience, leaving features and expressions to the imagination.

In a scene shot from the back seat, the driver maneuvers around a neighborhood under construction in the suburbs of Algiers. A question emerges from the friend in the passenger seat, like a catchphrase: “Are we lost, or not yet?” Viewers wonder the same.

The film director did not delve into elaborate scene building; the main setting is confined to vehicle frames. This suggests symbols of the conservative Algerian traditions, the inability to allow the emancipation of ideas and discussions beyond a narrow frame of thinking.

Esaad, by containing the heroine and the audience inside these cars throughout the film, nudges viewers to empathize with Soula’s sensations of feeling suffocated and stuck while losing hope for survival.

To add a realistic touch, the director spices up the dialogue with bold and profane words, filming the scenes and reactions as they happen. Beyond its exploration of taboo topics, the film is a drama, with characters peeling the onion of Algerian society through their interactions.

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