In his two short films – a documentary and a short feature – Egyptian filmmaker Sherif El Bendary attempts an unusual feat: to portray the angst, joy, passion, and hardship of being a young woman in Egyptian society.
In a screening on Wednesday night at Al Kotob Khan Bookshop in Maadi, Bendary displayed his two short films, both of which were produced last year under the auspices of the Egyptian Film Center.
The first film, a 20-minute documentary titled “6 Girls, follows the lives of six young women who move to Cairo from Port Said to continue their education. In a stylistic nod to reality television shows like “The Real World, Bendary documents the experiences of these six girls as they deal with each other and with their new environment.
The second film, “Rise and Shine, adopts a more experimental style – using a single, 10-minute shot to depict the frustration and sorrow of a young woman who has ended up in a bad marriage.
Although the two films are distinct in the way they approach their subject, they both seek to express the tensions and difficulties that face the modern Egyptian woman.
“6 girls is longer and significantly more predictable than “Rise and Shine. As Bendary sits down at the beginning of the film to discuss with each girl her concerns about the upcoming move to Cairo, the trajectory of the movie becomes readily apparent, leaving few surprises for the viewer.
The anxieties that the girls express are precise foreshadowings of the tribulations that they will face upon their move to Cairo. Concerns about living together, about getting along, about image and cultural stereotypes – these themes occur constantly throughout the film in a regular and rather predictable manner.
And of course, there is the happy ending – the girls overcome the difficulties of living together, of their prying neighbors, of their feelings of isolation, and emerge a strong, cohesive, and tight-knit family (they actually call each other sisters).
There are, of course, some poignant moments in the film as the girls describe making a home together, as they look at pictures of themselves and reminisce over past experiences. And, in the end, the theme of overcoming obstacles to emerge stronger and closer is quite touching, albeit somewhat cliché.
But Bendary moves away from clichés in his feature project, “Rise and Shine. In this more experimental film, the heroine Sanaa, played by Hend Sabry, tends to her baby and searches for her keys in an apparently normal start to her day.
But metaphors and symbolism abound in this 10-minute piece, as Bendary uses Sanaa’s frantic search for her keys as a way to access her tumultuous internal emotional state.
As she retraces her steps from the evening before – in an effort to remember where she put her keys – she relives the tense interaction that she had with her husband, questioning how she ended up in such a desperate situation.
Bendary also seeks to develop the theme of going to work in the morning, although this is somewhat lost as Sanaa rants about her crippled marriage. The film ends as she looks at the calendar and realizes that the day is Friday, and that she doesn’t have to go to work after all. She then dances off-screen, calling to her child in a sing-song voice about how Friday is a day for rest.
The film is impressive not least for its unique style – Bendary filmed it as a single, smooth steadicam shot – but for its ability to foster multiple interpretations.
These elements help to improve the slightly melodramatic style of Sabry’s acting, with her occasional looks into the camera and overly distraught expressions.
Both films are firsts for the young Egyptian filmmaker, who studied film at the Higher Cinema Institute after working as a textile engineer. They have received a significant amount of critical acclaim, winning a number of awards at Egyptian film festivals in and around Cairo.
Both were written and directed by Bendary and were produced by the Egyptian Film Center.