Scales (Sayidat Al Bahr)
9th October 2019 6.30pm at Curzon Soho
10th October 2019 1.00pm at ICA Cinema
12th October 2019 6.45pm at Prince Charles Cinema
Shahad Ameen’s murky mystery drama grips like a twisted fairy-tale. Scales is a cinematic Bloody Chamber, an Angela Carter-esque modern feminist parable that casts a lasting spell.
The fishing village in which Hayat (Basima Hajjar) was born is bound by a dark tradition dictating that each family must offer up a daughter to the sea maidens. However, when Hayat’s father cannot follow through, she is destined to become an outcast, and eventually our protagonist must make a decision: give herself up to the sea or find a way to live within her community.
Monochrome lends the visuals a mystical quality, elevating the exquisite lighting to ethereal heights. Moonlight dances on the waves, scales glimmer and silhouettes stand stark against the night sky. Oceanic soundscapes evoke elemental power while dialogue is kept to a minimum in a town where words have dried up. The cracked earth is geometric, the jagged shapes violent compared to the fluid, oscillating water. Indeed, as striking as the imagery is, the specific location is not important, but rather the symbolism. Rigid rules have parched this community to the brink of extinction.
Though this film is complex and cryptic, the message is worth hunting. “Our sacrifice is small,” exclaim the men of the village as they offer up their women. It is seen as an act of courage to relinquish your daughter. None of them question whether the sacrifice is theirs to give, or stop to ponder the bravery of Hayat’s father. He makes a choice, and his daughter, too, is a symbol of free will and revolution. She rejects the position she is given, flaunting gender roles in favour of fluidity, and in so doing, she opens the possibilities of new worlds. However, with an extended runtime, the film could expand its myopic focus. It can be hard to journey through such a dark night when the only glimmer of hope radiates from our heroine, and her straight-faced stares become relentless.
Nonetheless, that bravery and brutality is precisely what gives Scales power. Ameen doesn’t shy away from the darkness for her feature debut; she dives down to its deepest depths to salvage humanity before it drowns.
Scales (Sayidat Al Bahr) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Scales here: