20th KIFF

Arab Cinema

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Mood, tone and effect remained dominant themes at the 20th Kolkata International Film Festival. With focus on Arab Cinema, retrospectives of Stanley Kubrick (USA/UK) and Tsai Ming Liang (Taiwan), restored French classics, and tributes to Robert Wise (USA), J Lee Thomson (USA), Ajoy Kar (West Bengal) and actress Suchitra Sen, the festival offered thematic points, visual equivalents of the human landscape, and panavision chiaroscuro. The Indian Select and the Bengali Panorama mounted recent films about the spectacle of life.

Mohammad Khan’s ‘Factory Girl’ (Egypt/UAE, 2013, colour, 92 mins) opens with a blank screen, an off-screen song, and an overhead shot of a textile factory, where women are stitching garments on machines. The current manager is emigrating and leaving Women’s Textile Factory. The women watch from the balcony and return in  slow motion. There is radio music. Gossip stories regale the female workers. Mr Salah (Hany Adel) is the new young manager-supervisor. The girls speculate whether he is wearing a ring or not. Changing room gossips continue with broken engagements. The young girl factory worker, Hiyam (Yasmic Raeis) takes a bus ride home, and the fare is shared with a colleague, Nasra (Salma Dahab). Hiyam prepares food at home, and watches TV shows in the living room. Two groups in the locality fight over repayment of instalments. Next working day begins with the punch card machine for attendance. Sometimes joy brings ululation. The factory has checks on overtime. Husbands snatch salaries, even before the girls reach home. After shopping, sometimes Hiyam takes a 3-wheeler auto for returning home. When Mr Salah, the supervisor boards a bus midway, the girls clap, sing and dance within the moving bus. The man takes off clothes and steps into the sea. There is an office picnic by the sea. The girls join in the volleyball. There is an outdoor feast, and the girls share cooked food.

When Mr Salah feels unwell, he takes leave, and is admitted in hospital. Hiyam visits the manager in the hospital. A kiss and a positive pregnancy test discovered in the factory garbage leads to Hiyam’s denouncement by her mother (Salwa Khattab) and factory colleagues. The manager is transferred and rejects Hiyam. Later they meet at a restaurant, but the man is getting engaged to another woman. On the streets, there is a procession of ‘‘Voice of Women in Revolution’’. The girl is terrorized by her relatives. Her hair is cut off. Divorced aunt Samra (Salwa Mohammad Ali) helps in delivery of the baby. Mr Salah, the ex-factory foreman visits Hiyam in hospital. Even though director, Mohammad Khan and script writer Wessam Suleiman begin with female power messages, the screenplay on the sweatshop seamstress reinforces rigid patriachal assumptions. Emotions are writ larger than life in the gender disparities and class hierachies. Hiyam comes from a strong matriachal household, but wearing a head scarf she slaves away at a sewing machine, in a Cairo Textile Factory. She finds limited avenues available to women, accused of moral offences. Critical comments on Egypt’s changing social landscape are absent. People watch old musicals on TV, out of a nostalgic longing for the past. Far too many dialogue lines are delivered in near hysterical voices. The tragic-romantic sentimentality is well captured by Mahmoud Lotfi’s detached camera.

Vol. 48, No. 1, July 12 - 18, 2015