Yom Lel Setat (A Day for Women)
6th October 2016 8.45pm at Picturehouse Central
7th October 2016 1.00pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
There’s more than a whiff of Pedro Almodovar in A Day for Women, a resolutely feminist parable that positively glows with a love for its medium. In Egypt, a recently opened swimming pool has set the town ablaze with gossip, ever since the lifeguard (Eyad Nassar) declared that Sunday will be a day exclusively reserved for women. This delights Azza (Nahed El Sebaï), whom the town humiliatingly refer to as “the idiot” – she goes out and buys a colourful swimsuit, and runs through the streets, urging her fellow women to embrace the cooling pleasures of the pool. These include Shamiya (the wonderful Elham Shaheen), whose outrageous confidence masks an inner vulnerability; and Lula (Nelly Karim), still grieving over the loss of her husband and child in a ferry accident.
The film follows this trio, as they respond to the attitudes towards women in Egyptian society. It sounds a little predictable, and at first it is: the men of the town demonstrate brute outrage, including Lula’s brother (Ahmed Al Fishawy), who is an uncomfortable religious fundamentalist keen to use his fists. But as time goes on, the characters are shaded in interesting ways that engage even in moments of narrative complacency. Shamiya is given a bulk of sympathetic attention; her former lover Ahmed (Mahmoud Hemida) returns to town, still displaying obvious affection, which throws her into a panic about the sad direction her life has taken. Shaheen, bearing a noticeable red lipstick, gives a tour-de-force performance, especially when paired with Nelly Karim. A show-stopping scene occurs at a pool side, where tears are intermingled with happiness, and a community of women come together to achieve collective catharsis.
Beautiful photography (swimming pools are naturally cinematic) and an elegant score impress throughout, marking Kamla Abouzekri, in her sixth directorial effort, as an accomplished filmmaker. Like Almodovar, she consciously processes the mode of 1950s melodrama to reach her conclusions, which are even more emphatic about the prominence of women – there is even daft humour ticking along at all times to keep the audience on its toes. It’s true that the structure could have been tighter, as its unforced drama reaches a dispensable conclusion; still, this is a supremely confident work that may well inspire feelings of elation.
Yom Lel Setat (A Day for Women) does not have a UK release date yet.
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