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

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.


Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s ‘Free Solo’ sweeps Creative Emmys

‘Free Solo’ follows Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to climb El Capitan. (Supplied)
Updated 15 September 2019

Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s ‘Free Solo’ sweeps Creative Emmys

  • “Free Solo’” has won seven Creative Arts Emmy Awards
  • The documentary picked up every award for which it was nominated at Saturday’s ceremony in Los Angeles

DUBAI: Co-produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the critically-acclaimed documentary “Free Solo’” has won seven Creative Arts Emmy Awards, adding to a slate of honors that already includes a BAFTA and an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The documentary picked up every award for which it was nominated at Saturday’s ceremony in Los Angeles, including outstanding directing for a documentary/nonfiction program, outstanding cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, picture editing, music composition and best achievement in interactive media.

Presented by National Geographic, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin and co-produced by Image Nation, “Free Solo” follows Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to climb El Capitan – a 3,000 foot high vertical rock in Yosemite National Park – with no ropes or safety gear.

The documentary was co-produced by Parkes+MacDonald, Image Nation, Little Monster Films and National Geographic.

"I think it always comes back to Alex, the diligence and discipline and teaching himself over the years," Vasarhelyi told the Hollywood Reporter backstage at Sunday’s award ceremony. "I think in terms of the Creative Arts Emmys, Alex brought so much craft to what he did, that all of us, every member of our team got a nomination. So it’s incredible to see the Academy appreciates the hard work that went into it."

In February, “Free Solo” won an Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards. After the ceremony Chin told reporters, “Hanging off the wall, I couldn’t see Alex Honnold below, and I just had to trust that he was just being perfect. We also had to carry the weight of the entire production being perfect, because if we made any mistakes, it could have been catastrophic.”

UAE-based fans were treated to a special screening of the film in March and chief content office of Image Nation Ben Ross shared his thoughts at the event.

“From the incredible reviews to the Academy Award and BAFTA wins, we are so proud that Image Nation Abu Dhabi and the UAE can say it helped to support this incredible film…It has been an honor to work with the National Geographic.”