In Cinemas

Souad review – emotional tale of two sisters in the internet age

Egyptian writer-director Ayten Amin grapples with the relationship between teens and social media in this poignant coming-of-ager

Cinema, a reactive art that has always asked questions of truth, representation and reality, is now obsessed with our online lives. Recent blockbusters like Free Guy and Space Jam: A New Legacy celebrate the melding of our corporeal forms with binary code. Now Ayten Amin’s presents her own take on this phenomenon with Souad, an Egyptian drama that is so committed to its aesthetic as to become hyper-real, hallucinatory. And isn’t that the state of our online experience?

Souad (Bassant Ahmed) lives two ordinary lives. While she appears in public as a polite 19-year-old who wears a hijab around the house and chats with strangers on the bus, behind closed doors she is starting to discover herself. In her room, and online, she's able to escape her family’s watchful eyes and strict instructions. Souad revels in her online life, where she posts religiously-lax photos and embarks on a doomed virtual relationship with the older Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem).

Amin captures wonderful details. As Souad and friends dance in her bedroom, the camera speeds up as though it’s gracefully capturing Fred Astaire, focusing on the diverging reactions and power interplay between the girls in a single shot. With this one simple image, the film inverts the classic western cinematic depiction of Muslim women as hushed, veil-shrouded shrews (think of the infamous “we love fashion” scene in Sex and the City 2).

Eventually, the focus shifts to Souad’s little sister, Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh) who begins to more directly question the generational tension of doing right by your parents and the encroaching reality of the technocratic world’s propensity to tease our desires. Strong sound design makes this more prominent: male voices barge across the frame as characters walk down the street. When characters talk into phones, the mic captures them with the rasp of listening through your own device.

The slight blur of Amin’s digital camera as it moves around corners rebukes the film’s reality. It reminds us that someone is on the other side of the screen – that we are watching performers. Even in its first shot, Souad gives us a face in a “mirror selfie,” held up as though by a disembodied hand. While Souad eventually falls into familiar character arcs, hitting the coming-of-age beats that one might expect, Amin’s focus on the textures and details of this world transforms any convention into a satisfying framework that covers a real range of emotional ground.

Souad is now showing in UK cinemas.

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