Women's Film Festival: "My Girl Friend", by Egyptian director Kawthar Younis
"My Girl Friend", short film by Egyptian director Kawthar Younis, in competition at the 45th International Women's Film Festival (FIFF) in Créteil. © FIFF 2023
Text by: Siegfried Forster Follow
The 45th International Women's Film Festival opened its doors on Friday 24 March at the Maison des arts in Créteil, near Paris. The only film in competition from the African continent is called "Sahbety" ("My Girl Friend"). Between drama and laughter, Egyptian director Kawthar Younis shakes the certainties of genres and an entire society.
In an Egyptian society ossified in many respects, how to break gender constraints and overcome the barriers of moral prohibitions making love life impossible? Egyptian director Kawthar Younis uses the metaphor of impossible love to make visible the hypocrisy of a society obsessed with keeping up appearances.
The film starts innocently. In a house of which we know nothing, a young woman takes the elevator and rings a door on the sixth floor. "Who's there?" The mother asks her daughter inside. "It's my friend Alia, mom." Arriving in Sarah's room to work on their "project", they kiss ... tenderly. The ploy worked. Because, behind the attractive figure of Salia hides Ali, disguised as a woman to spend the night quietly with his girlfriend.
A room transformed into a miniature company
In 17 minutes, the short film transforms Sarah's small room into a miniature society where the trap is also closed on those who set it. Disguised as a girl, Ali loses all his privileges as a man. Made up, a wig on his head, he suffers the banal fate of a woman living in patriarchy. And even his relationship with Sarah begins to falter...
Through large shots showing the transformations of Ali's face, Kawthar Younis makes us understand: everything loses its footing. Ignorant of everything, the mother enters the love nest without knocking to bring melon and comfort to the "girls". Ali is forced to realize how ridiculous it is to be forced to smoke secretly in the bathroom when you are a woman. Sarah finds herself deeply disturbed by the troubled gender of her feminized friend. And all the rules of society explode when the father, the embodiment of patriarchy, but blinded and seduced by the fake breasts and lipstick of Ali alias Alia, begins to make advances...
Kawthar Younis, a woman filmmaker
Forty years after Tootsie, Sydney Pollack's Oscar-winning film starring Dustin Hoffman playing a woman to short-circuit her bad reputation as an actor and land a role, the Egyptian director offers us a successful variation of the theme of genres transposed into our contemporary era. Even if each shot in this film shot in Arabic breathes Egypt, Kawthar Younis makes the subject as powerful as it is universal by avoiding pointing the finger at a country, a city or a religion. A cinematographic feat already rewarded by the Special Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the Cairo International Film Festival. And obviously, this film, which was the first Egyptian short film to compete at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, has its place in the competition of the International Women's Film Festival in Créteil.
According to a report published by UNESCO in 2021, Egypt has more than 480 cinema screens, and between 20 and 30% of jobs in the film and audiovisual industry are held by women. Based in Cairo, Kawthar Younis is also a producer of films, mini-series and television commercials. In 2016, Younis won the audience award at FIPA in Biarritz with his documentary A Present from the Past, which was also a spectacular success in Egypt. She is also co-founder of Rawiyat-Sisters in Film, a women's collective founded in 2020 to create a solidarity network between filmmakers from the Middle East, North Africa, its diaspora and refugee communities.
► My Girl Friend, by Kawthar Younis, will be screened at the International Women's Film Festival on March 25 at 13 and March 30 at 17 p.m.
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