TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Director Ayten Amin’s drama Souad captures the lives of two teenage sisters in Egypt, where strict religious mandates and familial expectations impose heavy restraints. But more common amongst teens is the far-reaching, life-altering impact of social media, which the sisters also grapple with every day.
Set in Zagazig, a small city on the Nile Delta, the film initially follows 19-year-old Souad (Bassant Ahmed), who lives a double life. While continuing to be conservative while surrounded by her pious family (wearing a Hijab, for example), Souad, like many other impressionable teenagers, is obsessed with her image on social media. Her profound unhappiness is demonstrated by how she lies about her personal life.
“Souad relies on her smartphone to help form her perceptions of herself and how she wants to be seen.”
This deception is shown in the opening scene where a spirited Souad tells strangers fictitious tales of how she’s a medical student and her fiance Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem) is an army officer. In one story, she’s engaged to be married. In another, she’s contemplating dumping her fiance. These false tales Souad spins portray her as somebody aspiring for a markedly better life or, at the very least, a more fulfilling life that she has some control over.
At home, Souad lives with her caring mother (Mona Elnamoury), distant father (Islam Shalaby), and peppy sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh) in a decrepit apartment. She cleans, cooks, and fulfills her father’s demands while seemingly devoting her life to religion. Souad relies on her smartphone to help form her perceptions of herself and how she wants to be seen. The one person Souad really wants to be seen by is Ahmed, her “boyfriend” she sends amatory messages and revealing photos to. But when tragedy strikes, Rabab ventures on a journey to Alexandria to seek answers from Ahmed, shifting the perspective quite unexpectedly.
Souad is a leisurely-paced and seriously grounded drama that is emotionally and thematically nuanced. The screenplay is written eloquently with dialogue that almost feels unscripted. But more importantly, the complex characterization ensures that Souad and Rabab are balanced characters who are understandably weighed down by familial responsibilities and expectations. However, they don’t always talk about the way their culture and family undervalue their opinion. Teenagers often don’t disclose every emotion, but there are clues in their behavior and body language.
"…teenagers often don't disclose every emotion, but there are clues in their behavior and body language."