There are a lot of dramas that make you question the number of times you look at your phone in a day. For her debut narrative feature Souad, Egyptian director Ayten Amin takes the familiar posts and emojis of social media and put them in the contexts of her homeland.
Set in a strictly religious community of one of the Nile Delta cities, Souad (Bassant Ahmed) struggles to maintain a balance between the personal and public sides of herself. She works hard to fit in to her conservative religious circles, but online she has a different life, filled with curated images of herself and romance played out over DMs. When her actions online begin to raise suspicion among her peers, tragedy strikes, and it is left to Souad’s 13-year-old sister Rebab (Basmala Elghaiesh) to examine how things fell apart.
The temptation for many filmmakers would be to hammer home a message by pointing fingers. Amin resists, instead looking at the conflict between tradition and modern life without judging either side. As much as faith is a pressure to Souad, it is also shown as a grounding for other characters. At the same time, the need for the perfect selfie is balanced by the tenderness she feels from her online lover Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem) and affirmations from followers.
Amin also deals with heavy subjects gracefully, and through masterful use of sound. Tragedy is portrayed through distant screams, kept away from young Rebab but audible enough to be interpreted by the viewer. Later on, personal feelings are kept private as a call to prayer drowns out a conversation between her and Ahmed. Feelings are more important than facts here, with Elghaiesh beautifully portraying a child trying to find some solace in her inexplicable loss.
Prior to a shift in focus mid-way through the film, Bassant Ahmed subtly builds the anxieties within Souad. Subtle shifts in conversations, as well as scenes depicting her sexuality, all hint at the unspoken anguish she is going through. Voices are never raised, even in a panicked conversation with a suspicious friend, making her plight all the more concerning.
Souad doesn’t really come to a conclusion, preferring to sit with its issues rather than solve them. That might be unsatisfactory for some, but Amin succeeds in presenting a story that feels pertinent to the world today.
Souad is in cinemas from 27th August