Ayten Amin’s latest film Souad dives into the clashing worlds of Egypt’s religious conservatism and social media, focusing on the astounding Bassant Ahmed’s Souad and the devastating toll these opposing forces can have on a young woman struggling to understand who she is and where she fits in.
An intimate character study, Amin utilises non-professional actors that give the film a documentary-like quality, lending to the film’s profound sense of realism. The film is perhaps at its best in conversational scenes with Souad and her friends Wessam (Hager Mahmoud) and Amira (Sarah Shedid) which eloquently depict the balancing act Souad travails – Wessam smokes cigarettes and kisses boys while Amira remains far more traditional. It is here the dialogue truly crackles while these scenes’ litany of close-ups provide valuable insight into the characters’ inner workings – and highlight the artful subtlety of the performances – as well as delineating the sense of entrapment Souad increasingly feels.
Souad’s themes are deftly articulated from the offset, as Souad details imagined lives to different strangers on the bus, a mirror of the facade that she propounds on social media. The illusory nature of social media is also exemplified through Souad’s love interest Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem), a “content creator” living in Alexandria. Having stood Ahmed up after he visits her at college, their relationship sours with Souad angrily demanding he delete pictures she’d sent of herself without her veil, the perfect embodiment of Souad’s inner conflict.
Towards the tail end, as the film’s focus shifts to Ahmed and Souad’s younger sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), the film loses some of its earlier momentum. Though these scenes are undeniably awash with gravitas, the film fails to tie up its themes in an effective way, disappointing as the first half set up these ideas so well. Despite this however, Souad remains an engrossing portrait of the lives of Egypt’s teenage girls and the effect social media has on them. Amin has made a film both uniquely Egyptian but also universal in its depiction of the ongoing battle between modernity and tradition.