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Souad ★★★



Director: Ayten Amin

Cast: Bassant Ahmed, Basmala El Ghaiesh, Hussein Ghanem

Released: Tribeca Film Festival 2021

The eponymous Souad leads a seemingly fulfilled life on social media where everything seems perfect, but the behind-the-scenes reality differs significantly. The underlying question pervading this dramedy set within Zagazig, Egypt, is whether Souad’s constructed image on social media represents any degree of reality. Told in chapters assigned to the main characters, the film explores the cultural expectations for teenagers embedded within conservative settings. The ultimate goal seems to be to marry well and not be a cultural embarrassment. Souad is a slow-paced, meditative review of social media, familial love and desires for change. It is a thoughtful character study exploring the reality of carefully curated lives projected on social media and the ensuing pressures.

Souad, in that respect, is similar to most teenage girls and is always on her phone, taking selfies and posting updates on various social media platforms. However, her desire for such an ideal also projects into her personal life as she devises stories to tell random strangers on buses about her fiancé. His job changes between bus stops and passengers. However, this fiancé is a virtual one, and the film’s insight into the goals of girls, like Souad, whose conversations focus on weddings and being the ideal bride and attending societal events, is intriguing. The intimate discussions between the girls also underlines a surprisingly frank sexual discourse despite the societal requirements to be adorning veils covering their features and ultimately hiding their identities within their interactions in public spheres.

Therefore, the film presents this dichotomy subtly as Souad, in an expressive performance by Bassant Ahmed, wished to be a doctor and take medical exams. Still, these desires seem to be thwarted by traditional expectations. She looks after her younger sister, Rabab, who is observant but is equally subjected to these expectations as she cleans whilst her father sits down leisurely. It is no surprise that Rabab lies about her whereabouts when an unexpected tragedy occurs.

Souad portrays the contrast between the traditional views in parts of Egypt compared to the modern interpretations, whereas Souad’s love interest, Ahmed, describes his job as a content creator. Their relationship mainly seems to occur via Facebook, phone calls and other social media platforms, reflecting conservative cultural requirements. Elliptical in nature, the film jumps through periods in Souad’s life which seem disjointed but operate as the first chapter of the story.  However, this results in an inability to flesh out Souad’s character fully, but the film seems to focus on the unspoken word as a means to communicate. This is illustrated further by the unsteady handheld camera work within this section of the film, seemingly reflecting the chaotic uncertainty of Souad’s life.

Ayten Amin’s decision to create a story of two halves presents both a male and female’s perspective of an incident, without judgement, embeds the terms of the relationship expectations. The cinematography in Alexandria is mesmerising as the film takes Souad’s sister, Rabab, on a journey infiltrating Ahmed’s life.  There is a sense of calmness within Ahmed’s world compared to the high octane world occupied by Souad with bustling nighttime shopping centres. As Rabab becomes the focus, there is a softer approach as she seeks answers and is seemingly gullible outside of her familial microcosm.

Souad allows its audience to immerse itself within some of the Egyptian traditions which are being eschewed by the next generation in the country who wear t-shirts emblazoned the Nike slogan, ‘Just Do It.’ The film provides a subtle examination of the conflict that many of those teenagers encounter while finding their identity and their place within the world. Souad is a sensitive portrayal of a culture striving for change but cannot challenge itself sufficiently against inertia. The film exposes the conservative beliefs that may ultimately stifle the progression of future generations in Egypt seeking more contemporary development. Souad highlights Amin as an unafraid director to make bold choices portraying the necessity for a change to the narrative within an established political landscape.

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