Finding Hope through Understanding

Film Review by Khalid Ali, Film and Media Correspondent

Spoiler alert: this review contains significant plot details.

‘Souad’ (Ayten Amin, Egypt, 2020) showing at UK cinemas from 27th August 2021, https://www2.bfi.org.uk/whats-on/bfi-film-releases/souad.

Souad (Bassant Ahmed) is a 19-year-old girl who lives with her younger sister Rabab (Basmala El Ghaiesh), and their parents in Zagazig, a city on the Nile Delta. Souad is a traditional young Egyptian girl in secondary school who just sat her Baccalaureate exams. Like her neighbourhood girlfriends, she is hoping to study at university, get married and start a family. Being a pious Muslim girl, Souad spends the school holidays at home praying and enjoying carefree conversations with her sister and friends. This mundane life reflects just one side of Souad’s character. In a parallel world fabricated on Facebook pages, Souad has an alternative ‘persona’ as a flirtatious woman in a relationship with Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem) an older man from exotic Alexandria. Virtual reality allows Souad to enjoy the thrills of first love without guilt or shame; in one encounter Souad does not agree to meet Ahmed outside her school yet continues to exchange messages with him for two hours from inside her classroom. A tragic turn of events, that is not fully explained, sees Souad committing suicide. In the following two chapters of the film, we see Rabab meeting Ahmed in Alexandria trying to understand the reasons behind her beloved sister’s demise.

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Every year on the 10th of September, the World Suicide Prevention Day calls for increased awareness around suicide with a mission of creating a world where fewer people die by suicide. The motto for 2021-2023 is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’. The Day champions simple acts that fight off despair and instil hope such as: “Reaching out for a coffee with a best mate, taking a walk in the fields and letting the wind blow everything away, or go for a run along the seafront.”[1]

The film portrays those simple human connections poignantly in its verité-style narrative; one scene over the Stanley Bridge by Alexandria seafront where Rabab and Ahmed meet reflects Rabab’s trauma when she says: “I wish I would never fall in love”. Rabab believes that her sister’s untimely death was brought on by Souad falling in love with the wrong man.

The reasons behind suicide in young women in Egypt are multifactorial; family pressure on students to secure high grades in Baccalaureate exams to get into university, and failed romantic relationships are quoted as frequent reasons behind such tragedies.[2],[3]

By using non-professional actors as the film protagonists, Amin maintains an authentic approach to her story-telling style. Emotional yet subtle and non-sentimental, insightful yet non-judgemental, poetic yet realistic, ‘Souad’ poses more questions than answers about the lives of adolescent girls in rural Egyptian cities. The fascination of these young impressionable girls with the brutal world of ‘social media’, the emotional trauma they endure as well as the legacy of suffering of their families and friends are all sensitively observed details. Religious, social, and cultural factors all play a role in shaping the response of bereaved families of girls who commit suicide; in a candid scene Souad’s aunt reassures a relative over the phone that Souad died a virgin as confirmed in the post-mortem report by the forensic doctors. However, Ayten Amin and script co-writer Mahmoud Ezzat do not demonise Souad’s family or Ahmed who are bound by grief and mourning, and equally devastated by Souad’s death.

The film lingers in one’s mind long after the end credits roll; Souad is more than a figure or a statistic in government reports; she was a young woman full of life, hopes and dreams. Not only Ahmed, Rabab and her family need to recover from Souad’s agonising death, but a whole society also needs to talk openly about such tragic loss of lives. Only then can closure and healing take place.

 

Works Cited

[1] World Suicide Prevention Day, https://www.samaritans.org/support-us/campaign/world-suicide-prevention-day/ , accessed 22nd August 2021.

[2] Nancy M Zaghloul and Haidy M Megahed. A descriptive medico-legal study of female deaths in Cairo governorate, Egypt. J Forensic Leg Med 2019; 66: 25-32.

[3] Sonia Farid. Why are more and more Egyptians committing suicide. Alarabiya News, https://english.alarabiya.net/features/2018/10/10/Why-are-more-and-more-Egyptians-committing-suicide- , accessed 22nd August 2021.

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