DUBAI: Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival has attracted a slew of major titles for cinemagoers to watch before it wraps up on Dec. 9 and one of its most anticipated movies is Swiss-Egyptian director Tamer Ruggli’s debut feature, “Back to Alexandria.”
Starring veteran actors Nadine Labaki and Fanny Ardant, the film explores the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship with a script that features Arabic and French.
Sue (Labaki) is a psychotherapist living in Switzerland who returns to Egypt after 20 years to mend fences with her dying mother, Fairouz (Ardant).
Ruggli’s unconventional flick explores various layers of familial relationships.
The 37-year-old filmmaker told Arab News that he had initially wanted to do cartoons and later turned to film because it brought all the layers – colors, photography, costumes, and makeup – into one universe.
For his first movie, script development took seven years, and it became an ambitious project with a stellar cast.
He said: “We have a great cast of famous Arab actors that accepted to work on this more arthouse kind of film that they were normally used to.”
The film draws extensive references from his childhood.
“I grew up listening to my mother’s story on her relationship with her mother, how it affected her — she is the pretext of telling the story. But it’s very inspired by my childhood memories; the people I met growing up and those who have shaped me. I like to say it’s semi-autobiographical,” Ruggli added.
As mother and daughter unearth the past, Sue learns about Fairouz’s love life and better understands the complexities of their relationship.
He said: “Sue has an idealized image of her mother, and she discovers some things about her love life – that she loved someone else and had to marry a different person. She had to sacrifice a part of herself, so she rejected her daughter in a way. It symbolizes the freedom that she didn’t have.”
Aside from examining a contentious mother-daughter relationship, Ruggli has also included the presence of aunts in the film, making it even more relatable to Arab audiences.
“There’s this love-hate relationship with aunts – sometimes they even replace the mother’s role. So, we have different aunts present in the movie.
“For instance, Nadine’s character has this very close relationship with her aunt’s help, which is more human than that she has with her family,” he added.
One highlight of the film is the candy pink Cadillac Sue is seen driving around in, imagining conversations about things left unsaid between her and her mother. The car, which belongs to Fairouz, becomes a symbol of the mother’s eccentricity.
Ruggli said: “The car is very feminine and exuberant and is reminiscent of the mother. She’s this flamboyant character that lived in Egypt and always stood out from the crowd.”