Ayten Amin’s second feature-length film Souad tells the story of the titular protagonist (Bassant Ahmed), a young woman living in the Egyptian city of Zagazig. Torn between what her family expect of her and what she wants to make for herself, Souad creates a double life. She plays the part of the model daughter around her relatives, while projecting an idealised version of herself on social media. However, this situation is a precarious one and as reality clashes with her glamorised vision there are major consequences.
Genre-savvy moviegoers may be worried about characters falling victim to all-too-common tropes surrounding Muslim women in cinema, but the script handles the protagonist’s arc intelligently. Souad and her friends have agency in their narrative, and expressions of faith, and although culture and religion are explored and dissected as important factors of life in Zagazig, they are not demonised. The script presents these identities in complex and multi-faceted ways.
More than anything, this is a story about mental health and the way societal expectations can affect people, and this piece is thorough in its mediations on “keeping up appearances”. The picture covers a range of social groups and demographics within the urban space, creating a nuanced and comprehensive tapestry of modern life and its unique pressures.
The documentary-style cinematography works well to represent this and highlights the mounting tension in the young woman’s life: following her closely and documenting her most vulnerable moments in a way that feels appropriately claustrophobic. The excellent acting also goes a long way to heighten the feelings of tension and anxiety created by the script and camera work. Ahmed had a difficult task in representing these various emotional states and personae, and she more than delivers by bringing a strong performance as the film’s complicated and messy protagonist. Souad also has great sibling chemistry with her younger sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), who is thrust into a larger role in the second half – Elghaiesh does an excellent job at taking the narrative baton from her co-star with a more subdued but no less emotional performance.
Souad is an intelligent and complex picture that covers a great range of topics and themes in its slices of modern life with nuance and care. It’s a tough watch, but an absolutely compelling and engaging one.
Souad is released in select cinemas on 27th August 2021.
Watch the trailer for Souad here: