Souad seems like she is another college aged girl on the verge of full blown adulthood. When she is first introduced she is riding a city bus. She excitedly talks to another passenger about her studies and fiancé. It is soon revealed things are not quite as they seem as the young woman tries to come to grips with her life and the world she lives in.
The film seems like it is another coming of age story. When Souad is with her friends, she talks openly about boys and sex. As expected, the talk takes on hushed tones when adults are around. There is much more going on in Souad, however. This becomes especially clear after the shocking death of one of the characters. The biggest concern seems to be that she has died a virgin. Her death hurts, but it is her intact innocence that is of foremost importance.
Souad examines the patriarchal Egyptian society. The plot sees the eponymous main character and her sister juggling their conservative upbringing with their wild online attitudes. Again, it sounds like formulaic material. Stories of young adults trying to maintain real persona with created ones are the backbone of these types of films. It takes on a much deeper meaning here.
While the actions of the two can partially be explained away by youthful rebellion, there is a deeper subtext in Souad. Going online is an opportunity to escape from a rigid life. Social media is not just a way to flaunt conventional attitudes. It is a way to live an entirely different place. It is not a case of being her “real” self. When she goes on the internet, Souad can actually be free.
The cinematography adds to this feeling. Souad is filled with close ups that enhance the claustrophobic atmosphere. There is little room for free movement drawing the audience in to Souda’s life. Everything in her world feels cramped or under surveillance. The sojourns online take on added importance. There is liberty that she can take full advantage of.
A coming of age story that deals in domineering society and the use of social media and fabrications seems par for the course. Souad takes these standard elements and brings an added layer of depth. The movie is a heartbreaking look at becoming a woman in a place where there is a set place for them. It also looks at the importance of identity – and the lack of having one.
The Tribeca Film Festival takes place from June 9 – June 20
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