Saturday, June 12, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: Souad

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Directed by Ayten Amin
International Narrative Competition – Screening Information

The way people present themselves to the world around them is influenced by many factors. Peer pressure can have impactful and unfortunate results, and it may not even stem from direct action or words from others but from what someone places upon themselves due to their perception of their status or worth. Social media profiles rarely reflect reality accurately or completely, and those who seem happiest and most popular may be harboring secrets with potentially dangerous implications, especially if who they are and how they want to express themselves is incongruent with their culture and community.

Souad (Bassant Ahmed) lives in Zagazig, Egypt. She spends a good chunk of her day online, pining after glamorous stories others post and messaging with her boyfriend Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem), who lives in Alexandria, while finishing up university. What she tells her friends and random strangers on the bus, however, indicates a different truth, one that finds her emulating a more fantastical lifestyle and bolstering Ahmed’s identity, transforming him from an influencer and content creator to a respected military officer. What Souad doesn’t share with anyone, including her younger sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), reveals much more about who she wants to be and the dangers of secrecy and over-exaggeration.

Living almost entirely through social media profiles is a concerning enough phenomenon in the United States, and this film explores how it’s just as prevalent in other countries. Modesty standards and religious influences further complicate the situation, as what Souad wants to express can’t be done around certain friends and family members, leading her to further mask what is really going on in her life and keep those closest to her in the dark. It’s a cautionary tale that will surely be frightening and unsettling to parents of teenage children who see all too well the possible negative consequences of modern technology.

Ahmed delivers a strong breakthrough performance as Souad, bubbly and energetic in some surroundings and more reserved and melancholy in others. It’s a very universal turn in that who she is can be applied to so many young adults, regardless of where they live in the world, but also one that’s informed by the cultural norms of modern Egyptian society. This film both defies and delivers on expectations, demonstrating the reach of social media and the yearning for connection – and acceptance – that so motivates people to do things that wouldn’t ordinarily make sense or seem safe. The finished product is an unnerving and memorable portrait of youth, vigor, and a harsh and often unforgiving world.


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