Archives for posts with tag: movies

c7d0e1aa-c494-4918-8efb-d94e96de3a06Fou’ada is their conscience and the voice of reason, an entire village’s moral compass and the only one to stand up for what’s right. She is also the one soft spot of the strongman terrorising the village, Atrees. He wasn’t always like this, when they were kids they were equals – sensitive, caring, and not wanting to hurt a living soul. But the little boy was trained in the ways of his cruel grandfather who through years of abuse manages to infiltrate his grandson’s mind. Atrees grows up knowing that he is not like his grandfather by nature and promises Fou’ada to never kill. This all changes when one villager shoots the grandfather and makes Atrees promise to take revenge. In an exaggerated show of violence and as a metaphor for the death of his innocence and kindness, Atrees uses all of his men’s guns to repeatedly shoot the perpetrator.

Atrees becomes increasingly cruel, killing those who defy him and punishing others by burning down their farms or cutting the water supply. He has come to understand that to continue having this much power it must be done through fear, he has no desire to be loved or respected. This fear shapes the village, it infects how they interact with each other and how they view themselves, with most of them complacently accepting that this just how things are. The only exception is Fou’ada, who is not governed by fear. When she questions why no body is standing up to Atrees, the reply is always ‘why should I be the one to do it and risk death?’ Everyone is waiting for someone else to take the first step. The good of the individual is pitted against the good of the community and that is the true victory of fear and violence.

In the moving scene of rebellion where Fou’ada opens up the water supply while the rest of the village sulks over their misfortune, the people rejoice at her actions but are not moved to follow suit. There is an understanding that only she can do this because Atrees loves her. She has the one tool that exists outside the power structure. Her overwhelming compassion for others and intimate knowledge of Atrees makes her the go-to person when something has gone wrong. The men don’t turn to each other for help and support because they have nothing to offer each other whereas Fou’ada is always willing to help them out. Her expression of emotion is always to mourn for and with others but in the face of any personal struggles we get the steely glance of perseverance.

Atrees tries to intimidate Fou’ada and her family into a marriage with him and although she doesn’t agree her father and his witnesses lie and say she does; assuming that, like them, she will cower in front of him when the time comes. It is here that we see Fou’ada using the one structural and institutional piece of arsenal available to her – a Muslim marriage is only legitimate if the woman approves it. Despite this, her father marries her off anyway and it is almost through sheer luck that her brutal husband decides not to rape her. But for Atrees, to have Fou’ada by force would be counterintuitive because the reason he wants her in the first place is that she is balm to his wounded self, she is the sole source of light in this violent life he has created. He never talks of her personal attributes but keeps mentioning over and over again how she used to make him feel. She is his pain because she is a living reminder of the person he used to be and he wants to contort that into something that will give him relief instead. She is not a person with agency and her own make-up, she only exists in relation to him.

Fou’ada reminds him that his violence is a choice. He forced this marriage on her father but she would have willingly had him if he hadn’t committed all these unforgivable crimes. Yet he still tries to force her to become his salvation when she is clearly more interested in saving her village from him. The men’s reactions to her stance is particularly interesting. The young idealist claims that she has killed their manhood because she has done what none of them had the courage to do. Usually this would incite a reflexive hatred towards the woman for reminding them of their shortcomings as men but instead they have decided to use it as motivation to act, because if a woman can do it then they as men can do it too.

The most progressive gender stance then comes from the idealist’s father who tries to rally the men after Friday prayers. His argument is that even if they allowed Atrees to break the laws of man they must not allow him to break the rules of God. When another villager points out that they have a woman in their midst who sins by sleeping around, his response is that she has done this of her own free will whereas Fou’ada was taken from her family home against her wishes; and once they free themselves of this tyranny they can then sort out any internal issues that are bothering them. This begs the question then of whether or not they would have come to Fou’ada’s rescue if she had been raped or beaten? Or was it only in the breaking of the sanctity of marriage as laid down by Islam do they find their true motivation for taking action?

 

 

فيلم عرق البلحAnd what happens to the women when they leave? This is the central question posed by the 1999 Egyptian film ‘Arak El-Balah (3ara2 elbala7 – “Date Wine”). 

It starts with a mysterious voice visiting a poor village and asking all the men to come to a faraway land where they will gain many riches. The incentives appeal to the men’s masculinity: buying jewellery for a beautiful wife or being able to afford a daughter’s wedding. Although these reasons revolve around the family, the women express that they do not care about these things and would rather their fathers, husbands and brothers stay. It is clear the men are going to be exploited, the conditions for their work are: silence, blindness, forgetting.

The one man who resists is the one with no family, no wife or children to take care of. He is only concerned with the large palm tree. His self-assigned life purpose is climbing it and getting the white date wine that will cure his ailing grandfather. They end up being the two masculine figures left behind, the young man that must prove his manhood and the old man who can no longer speak or support himself. The old man is accompanied by Grandma Zein, the mysterious black woman who represents ancient wisdom, she is the overseer and protector of the village – sometimes through simple actions and stories, other times through cryptic metaphors and poetry.

The young man, Ahmed, is the only person in the village that knows how to read and becomes the women’s sole connection to their estranged partners and relatives. It’s one of the many ways he begins to gain their respect, culminating in a scene where they dress him like a “real” man and put him on a horse to call for musicians from a neighbouring village to celebrate a newborn baby. Like a child he accepts their grooming – it is the women who make the man. It is only when they stop treating him like a teenager that he stops trying to prove himself to them.

As time passes many women fall into either despair or insanity – sadness and madness – the central thread running through the women’s characters. Female sexuality for example is portrayed as a rising tension that sometimes leads to self-pity and other times to depravity. Only the married women have sexual desire, seemingly because they tried it and now cannot live without it. They are the ones who start proactively trying to find ways to fulfill their needs. One goes after Ahmed when drunk and gets beaten off like a dog by Grandma Zein, and another dances suggestively and ends up sleeping with one of the musicians from the neighbouring village. In a scene that provides an intense visual representation of shame; when the women find out, they surround her and silently pressure her into killing herself. On a group level it is a form of self-correction in order to preserve their social norms and on an individual level her pre-existing shame makes stepping into a fire and burning herself alive almost seem inevitable. Female desire is never treated as just being human, it is subhuman and abnormal, and is treated as such at every turn.

The men eventually return, tired, broken and seeking consolation in their women. The women seemingly so relieved at their return must quickly hide any mental distress that was caused by their departure but it manifests in other ways. The woman who had pursued Ahmed doesn’t want her husband anymore, she spends her days holding her son that she had almost killed in a fit of rage and smoking cigarettes (a decidedly masculine habit). The village is silent about the woman who killed herself and when one man asks why she did it, his wife tries to blame the sadness and he responds by telling her that they all have sadness in their hearts but nobody has killed themselves. Sadness is their accepted fate and it must come with an acceptances of all circumstances – acknowledging the possibility of desire, shame and mental imbalance is not an option.

The men also find out that Ahmed intends to marry the young and beautiful Salma but has impregnated her in the meantime. In a final showcase between two adjacent interpretations of masculinity, Salma’s father challenges Ahmed to climb the tall palm tree as a dowry for his daughter then cuts it down when he reaches the top, ultimately killing two of the village’s most valuable and productive entities.

Unlike palm trees that are resilient and don’t break in the wind, the system they had created and tried so hard to protect only works when everything is going smoothly with man, woman and children at home. In its attempt to spotlight the importance of family and the trivial pursuit of wealth, the film actually exposes how deeply flawed a traditionally patriarchal system is. The system however has succeeded in making the female characters internalise it and believe that they cannot survive without men, to the point where the women were able to successfully perpetuate its destructive tendencies. This is despite the fact that there are many modern, historical, urban and agricultural examples of successful female communities and female-led households. It is clear then that the overarching system cannot survive without this firm belief that if all the men disappeared, the women would crumble, like a built-in safety mechanism.

Again it’s all in my humble opinion and I won’t bore you with the obvious choices (Godfather, Star Wars etc.) but only the second most obvious choices. 

NB: most, if not all, of these movies are not kid friendly (in fact they’re really messed up)

10. Natural Born Killers

Natural-born-killers

9. Amelie 

8. The Dreamers

7. Old Boy

6. The Doors

5. American Psycho

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4. Secretary

3. Coffee and Cigarettes

2. Shortbus

1. City of God

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You can thank me later…