Film Review: Powerful critique of male dominance does Arab cinema proud

Film Review: Powerful critique of male dominance does Arab cinema proud
‘Scales’ is the Saudi film director Shahad Ameen’s first feature. (Supplied)
Updated 10 September 2019

Film Review: Powerful critique of male dominance does Arab cinema proud

Film Review: Powerful critique of male dominance does Arab cinema proud

VENICE: Saudi film director Shahad Ameen’s first feature, “Scales” (Sayidat Al-Bahr), had its world premiere in the Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival last week. Truly arthouse fare in luminous monochrome, taken mostly in close-ups and medium shots, the movie tells us a fairy tale that is rather darker and more dystopian than Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood. Turning her 2013 short, “Eye & Mermaid,” into subtle but unmistakable critique of imposing patriarchal power, she shoots her work on a rugged, visually arresting Oman coastline.

“Scales” is inspired by folk tales and Arabic culture’s incredibly rich stories,  and is set in a superstitious fishing community where a man’s word is law, convention and custom. A cruel practice requires each family to sacrifice its firstborn daughter to sea monsters. Starting on a note of magic realism, with images accentuated in black and white, the movie opens on a night of the full moon. Muthanaha (Yaqoub Alfarhan) stands on the sea shore holding his newborn baby girl, Hayat, but does not have the heart to obey the village diktat and drown her in the waters infested by monsters.

“Scales” moves on 13 years to show a young and pretty Hayat (Baseema Hajjar) — who bears some features of a mermaid, hence the title of the movie — counting the days until her mother gives birth to her second child. If it is a girl, Hayat will live. But if it is a boy, she cannot escape this time around and would have to give herself up to the marine monsters.

It is clear what Jeddah-born Ameen is aiming at. As she said in an interview, “it is very important for us to stop victimizing women. It is very important for young girls to have a hero to look up to. It is the first time ever, I think in cinema, that we are going to see a 13-year-old Saudi or Khaleeji girl… be awesome.”

And the mermaid has been used very effectively as a metaphor for a woman who is strong-willed and who has the guts to walk a path less trodden. Hayat has all this, an epitome of rebelliousness who chooses to fight male domination. A 15-year-old big screen novice, Hajjar has us riveted with her brooding expressions against the background score by Mike and Fabien Kourtzer.


Global pop group Now United shoots new music video in Abu Dhabi

Nour Ardakani (right), a 19-year-old singer from Lebanon, became the band’s 16th and first Arab member. Instagram
Nour Ardakani (right), a 19-year-old singer from Lebanon, became the band’s 16th and first Arab member. Instagram
Updated 16 January 2021

Global pop group Now United shoots new music video in Abu Dhabi

Nour Ardakani (right), a 19-year-old singer from Lebanon, became the band’s 16th and first Arab member. Instagram

DUBAI: Global pop group Now United has filmed its music video for “Lean on Me” at Abu Dhabi’s five-star Emirates Palace hotel.

The video starts with a sweeping view of the hotel, before showing band members performing choreographed dance moves in its plush corridors and outside terrace.

The band, made up of 16 members from as many countries, has spent the past few months in the UAE, following the search to find its newest member from the Middle East.

Nour Ardakani, a 19-year-old singer from Lebanon, became the band’s 16th — and first Arab — member.

She was handpicked by Simon Fuller, who founded The Spice Girls and created the “American Idol” TV show.

Since Ardakani’s arrival, the group has been busy recording new music and shooting videos in various locations around the UAE.

The video for its track “Habibi,” released in November to officially welcome Ardakani into the band, was shot partly in Dubai’s historic Al-Fahidi district, and in her native Lebanon.

This is not the first time that an artist or group has turned to the Arab world for inspiring cityscapes.

Cardi B’s breakout single as a rapper, “Bodak Yellow,” was filmed in the UAE. The video, set in Dubai, topped the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for three consecutive weeks, and received nominations for best rap performance and best rap song at the Grammys.

In 2018, US-Moroccan rapper French Montana went back to his roots for his “Famous” music video, shot in the Moroccan city of Chefchaouen, where he grew up.

British recording artist M.I.A also shot her 2012 music video for “Bad Girls” in Morocco. The video, filmed in the city of Ouarzazate, won the VMA for best cinematography and best direction, and was nominated for a Grammy.