Posts Tagged ‘Woman filmmaker’

Souad (2021)

Dir.: Ayten Amin; Cast: Bassant Ahmed, Basmala Elghaiesh, Hager Mahmoud, Hussain Ghanem, Carol Ackad, Sarah Shedid, Islam Shalaby, Mona Elnamoury; Egypt/Germany/ Tunisia, 96 min.

Egyptian director/co-writer Ayten Anin (Villa 69) offers a snapshot of the younger female generation symbolising all the contradictions of Muslim countries like Egypt, where their modern world is on collusion course with the more traditional background of their families. Amin has her narrative structured in chapters, the headings go with the main protagonists.

Chapter one, named after the titular heroine, nineteen-year old Souad (Bassant), begins in a commuter bus where Souad tells a woman seated next to her all about her fiancé Ahmed who is serving in the army, a fact that frightens her – but she can’t wait to get married and loves his family.  Next, she is in another bus with another woman, and this time Souad’s fiancé is still Ahmed, but this time he’s a surgeon in Cairo, and Souad herself is studying medicine, coming from a family of doctors.

The reality is very different, when we watch Souad in the small flat she shares with her younger sister Rabab (Elgaiesh) and her traditional parents (Shalaby/Elnamoury). They live in Zagazig, a fraught industrial town. Souad and her girfriends Yara (Ackad), Amira (Shedid) and Rabab are addicted to their mobiles – to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

Souad likes to flirt, particularly with the rather wild Wessam (Mahmoud), but her true love is Ahmed (Ghanem) although he lives 300 miles away in an upmarket part of Alexandria. Ahmed is a budding influencer on the insta, and the two share photos and poems, even engaging in phone sex. They will never meet, because Souad, anxious about her exam results, throws herself from the balcony of the flat.

For her parents it’s enough that she died a virgin, the rest is “God’s will”. Basically, the feature starts again when Rabab, who has inherited Souad’s mobile, travels to Alexandria to meet Ahmed, to “give him a present from Souad”. Rabab falls for Ahmed’s charm, just like her sister, but at only sixteen she is more realistic, far too young to have a fiancé. Ahmed is now betrothed to an upper-class girl from a leading family but he’s decent enough to admit to Rabab that he did love Souad although she well aware of the situation. Ironically, she passed all her exams.

Souad’s confabulations are not uncommon for a young woman of her age, but is also clear, that she – and her friends – are used to living in a parallel universe, where shopping with her mother for a new hijab, collides with her activities on the mobile. What is also pivotal is the lack of understand about her depression. The friends’ rivalry is certainly part of it – they argued about the use of cosmetics to make them look whiter, among other issues. But rather than explore her psyche Amin is more interested in the impact her death made on her family and friends. What is crucial here the affects of societal repression on a whole generation of young Muslim women in countries dominated by a male-orientated religion.

The ensemble acting is brilliant; Ahmed and Elghaiesh won joint “Best Actress” at Tribeca this year. DoP Maged Nader excels both in close-ups and a roaming camera in the cities of Zagazig and Alexandria, underscoring the social divide that impacted on Souad’s wellbeing. Ayten Amin directs with great sensibility in this moving expose of Arab society. AS


Take Me Somewhere Nice (2019) *** MUBI

Dir: Ewa Sendijarevic | Drama | 91′

In her impressive debut feature, Ewa Sendijarevic takes a fresh and playfully cinematic approach to this semi-autobiographical expression of ‘positive experience of loneliness’ for the average multi-cultural person. To put it more simply, her central character Alma has grown up in Holland from Bosnian parentage and returns there to visit her father for the first time, with the gaze of an alien. Although this theme has been done before, most recently in a radical way by Jonathan Glazer in his mystery thriller Under The Skin, Take Me Somewhere Nice is a much more down to earth affair, enriched by its stunning visual approach and minimal dialogue. Alma is an Alice in Wonderland like character who goes on a Kafkaesque journey to visit her origins. She is accompanied by her cousin and his best friend, both from Bosnia, both unemployed and just as “care free” as Alma herself.

This triangle of characters represents a West-East European power balance between the privileged, and those left behind; the bitter and the opportunistic, the ones who would like to join the West and the ones who actively turn their back to it. This tension between the three bright young things occasionally becomes recklessly sexual, at other times gently attempts to forge a meaningful connection. Each frame completes the brightly coloured jigsaw of Alma’s eventful story, and even when it ventures into darker themes – a road kill incident and beach attack – still feels hopeful and energetic, in contrast to the clichéd portrayals of migrant misery and put-upon womanhood in the beleaguered Balkans.

Sometimes Sendijarevic inverts expectations, making us uncomfortable in a Brechtian way, and more acutely aware of traditional approaches the buzzy subject matter. TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE is also a film about using our contact with nature and the animal kingdom to celebrate being alive and being present in our world, wherever we lay our hats. Spirited performances and a lively colour palette make this journey fun and highly watchable. Sendijarevic believes in the Romantic – and laudable – idea that in “the moments we spend alone, preferably in nature, we can connect to our true selves in a spectacular way”. a sentiment that holds true now more that ever. A delightedly inventive and lively first feature. MT



Martha: A Picture Story (2019) *** Tribeca Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Selina Miles; Documentary with Martha Cooper; USA 2019, 80 min.

The first feature documentary by Australian director/co-DoP Selina Miles is a portrait of American photographer Martha Cooper whose shots of street art in New York of the 1970s and 80s gained her the title Godmother of Graffiti. Even at the ripe old age of 75 she is still active in her hometown of Baltimore and European capitals Berlin, Vienna and Paris.

Born in 1943, she fell in love with the camera at the age of three. When she was working for the Peace Corps in Thailand in 1963, she shot a series of photos of tattooists at work. Returning to the USA, she faced the first wave of many rejections of her work, before she was taken on by the New York Post in 1977, having made a name for herself with a series on urban life in Rhode Island. At the Susan Welsham was the photo editor of the Post and she remembers their collaboration when women like Cooper had to literally beg to be taken on.

In New York she worked for City Lore at the time when the city was burning and President Ford pandered to national prejudice “letting New York go bankrupt rather than bail them out”. Her interest in urban and street art led her to an auspicious meeting with Edwin Serrano, who later introduced her to Dondi (1961-1998), the King of train Graffiti, whose work recently fetched upwards of $200 000 up. Dondi made an exception for Cooper, who was allowed to photograph him while on the job. The outcome was ‘Subway Art’ (published by Cooper and Henry Chalfant), which later became the bible of Street Art. ‘Hip Hop Files’ (1998) is another one of her now classic publications.

Back in 2004 Cooper travelled to Germany, Vienna and St. Denis (a suburb of Paris), where she was celebrated for her work. In Miami she took photos of the artist colony of Wyndwood Walls, where graffiti is displayed on whole blocks. Even very recently, she took up with a group of Berlin train graffiti artists, hanging from precarious positions to capture their work. Nowadays she is still active in SoWeBo, a rundown district of Baltimore atmospheric of a black ghetto where the kids make impressive pavements artists.

Martha is living proof that art can keep you young. Her bold and intrepid work goes on. AS



When They Left (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir: Veronica Haro Abril | Doc, Ecuador, 61′

In When They Left Veronica Haro Abril tells the story of a dying community in her native village of Plazuela, Ecuador. A series of pithy, melancholy but evocative reminiscences recall a once vibrant mountainside community. But Abril discovers something else in its place.

These gentle old folk are serene and positive about their lives as they go about their daily tasks to maintain self-sufficiency. Lucrecia collects lemons and harvests her potato crop in the orchard:  “I don’t have time to be sad. We love the this place. I don’t know about the people who come from the outside, but for me it’s beautiful”. And she’s right. Abril’s film very much connects  to the global narrative of human survival for remote communities conveying the peace and tranquility of a simple but socially connected place where the villagers are still very much in contact with their family. In some ways the young have lost out by leaving their elders to go the city. They may gain in some ways, but they miss out on the counsel and experience of the older members of the family. For the older generation, the animals are their new ‘children’ offering them produce in return for care. There’s so much to be recommended about village life and these people are never lonely because they have each other to talk through their worries and health concerns. Consolacion and her dog look forward to the arrival of the ice-cream van. 33cents for a scoop of freshly made blackberry seems a reasonable treat. Another tends to her bees with her friend ‘mammita’ donning their makeshift outfits, their hands are left bare. And the honey is fragrant and plentiful. The final act sees them preparing for a musical get-together. The men playing their instruments, and dressed in traditional garb, the women dancing.

Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, Abril’s elegant framing, long takes and limpid visuals make this a relaxing and calming experience, the ambient sound of birds and the soft breeze in the trees is pleasant and invigorating. In the end When They Left is not about loss or sadness but about the intense calm that togetherness brings once life’s struggles are over, reflecting the wisdom and serenity of a life well lived for a philosophical generation who have a great deal to teach us in many ways. MT.


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