Opening in cinemas in the UK & Ireland on 27 August 2021, Souad is a window into the world of a young ‘Generation Z’ girl, growing up in a small city outside of Cairo as she struggles to conform to her strict family and cultural traditions whilst acting like a normal teenager, which is further complicated by her online relationships and persona.
Souad (Bassant Ahmed) lives at home with her younger sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh) and they share the same home-life predicament, a conflicting dual identity between living a respectful Muslim lifestyle and wanting to live life like carefree teenagers. We get intimate access to Souad and her friends’ conversations as we see them chatting openly in her bedroom, which is a breath of fresh air to see their bubbly conviviality away from the conservative demeanour shown in public. The film looks to highlight these differences and shows how they reveal themselves in different social situations, like Souad’s reaction when chatting to her rebellious friend, who she thinks is behaving improperly because she smokes. She gives a harsh judgement, especially when Souad’s righteous opinion belies her own far from perfect behaviour, as she lies about her relationships online and posts provocative images to her boyfriend on the internet.
The online pressure to live a beautiful life is taking its toll on Souad’s emotional wellbeing. She is trying to maintain a virtual relationship with a guy from the big city Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem), having late night video calls but she is becoming increasingly anxious and frustrated whilst all the while Ahmed is carrying on with his actual fiancé from a wealthy family in the city. Souad tries to figure out her teenage growing pains through expressing her emotions online until eventually tragedy strikes and the film flips on its head, going off in a totally different direction.
This is the second feature from female director Ayten Amin who has assembled a largely young female cast of unknown actors who, given the license to improvise some of the script, put in totally convincing performances. The cinematography adds another layer of natural realism moving closely with its subjects, capturing the contrasting landscapes of the rural Zagazig against the bustling city of Alexandria. Its empathetic storytelling gives you the feeling you are eavesdropping on the characters and although the sudden plot twist is not altogether surprising, it brings a dramatic change in tone to the movie which ends up feeling like you are watching two different films, but intriguingly so.
It’s a rites of passage film from the Middle East full of contrasting characters and conflicting ideals as Souad looks to find her identity mixed up in a modern digital world. The all girl ensemble has had some recent hits like ‘Girlhood’ that give a real sense of the place and the time and this is similarly engaging to see a story from Egypt, even if the dramatic change in plot left me somewhat bemused.
Director: Ayten Amin
Stars: Bassant Ahmed, Basmala Elghaiesh, Hussein Ghanem
Run time: 1hr 36min