Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 07, 2006 2:07 pm 
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The spirit and sadness and spice of street life

These seven young women living on the street in Cairo are warm and spirited. They are sad but somehow admirable. The documentary film, made by a mostly female crew whose members had spent weeks gaining the girls’ confidence before they began shooting, shows Shari’ Orabi (the street where they hang out) and the girls most often at dawn or twilight or night, tinged with yellow, with glimpses of derelict cars, sunlight cast on men in a cheap café puffing on sheeshas, little children playing or learning to walk. Not since Duane Michal’s perceptive little photography book Merveilles D'Egypte has anyone captured the quirky, shabby beauty of ordinary Cairene street life. No one has captured the street girls of Cairo before. Here, Tata, Maryam, Abeer, Dunya, and the others and some boys address the camera and talk about their lives. Why are they there? How do they spend their time? Do they get by? What hardships do they face? There are different answers. To “Why?” there may be no good answers.

This is a new phenomenon. Girls have only lived on the street in Cairo for the last fifteen years. Rached said this in an interview. The film is without narration. It wanders back and forth between the upbeat and the sad, with understated intervals of Felliniesque music by Tamer Karawan, which echo the girls’ moments of good cheer and whimsy. We do not really see much about what they do, except sniff glue and smoke joints and take pills, fight, get pregnant, take care of their babies, dream of their jailed boyfriends, get their hair done, ride a horse, sing and dance, boogie down – all these things happen. There is a social fabric, Rached also has said. People care for these girls, step in from time to time. Sometimes they have to be protected from their fathers, who become enraged if they are pregnant. The trouble is, they aren’t married, and they don’t’ know who the father is. They all had some reason to leave home. But they wouldn’t have done so and stayed if they weren’t strong enough to survive here. One girl, one of the prettiest, has her hair cut short, and has posed as a boy to protect herself. Others have scars on their faces from men who have abused and raped them. Some of them become scam artists from time to time, practice prostitution, or beg to get money for food and for their children’s needs. (Most of this we don’t see on film.) they are all pretty articulate – one little boy who briefly speaks, stunningly so.

The film draws no conclusions, and Rached in interview had no solutions to offer. She only said that the strength of the girls and the continuing social fabric indicate that there is hope of change for the better. When the film was shown in Cairo, she said, the girls laughed and joked about it as if it were a home movie. The public received it warmly. Speaking of warmth, a special word has to be said about Hind, a young middle-class woman of conservative dress, matronly girth, and devout beliefs with no background in sociology who simply decided on her own to be responsible for the girls. She comes to visit from time to time, even now that she has a boy of her own, listens to their problems, intercedes with their parents, advises them what to do. The round smiling face of Hind is the image of pure love. These Girls is touching, beautiful, heartwarming, and sad. There’s no message here, and no statistics, but the filmmaker, herself Egyptian, is not being coy about her sympathy.

These Girls is the first film produced by the recently resurrected Studio Misr, once the home of classic Egyptian cinema, since fallen into total decline, now reactivated and restored under the leadership of Karim Gamal El Din. Al-Banate Dol, the title in Egyptian Arabic dialect, could also mean “Those Girls,” which from one angle might be better. But the English subtitles, which are essential to this talkative and highly colloquial film, are excellent.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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