Hala Khalil / Egypt / 2015 / 122 mins
Part of the Africa in Motion Film Festival at the Filmhouse
This critically-acclaimed film provides an in-depth look at the effects of the Arab Spring on Egyptian society, as seen in the life of Nawara (Menna Shalabi). Working as a cleaner for the rich family of a government official, Nawara finds her impoverished life is overturned by the effects that the removal of the Hosni Mubarak government has on her employers. When Nawara is given the keys to the house by the fleeing family, she discovers a new way of life that could provide a means of escaping her current hardships for both herself and her husband Aly (Ameer Salah Eldin).
Khalil initially portrays the massive wealth gap resulting from thirty years of Mubarak’s rule, contrasting Nawara’s cramped living conditions with her work serving food to the wealthy elite that gather at her employers’ home. However, this simple binary is deconstructed during the course of the necessarily two-hour-long runtime.
In particular, Khalil incisively targets the administrative chaos and corruption resulting from a government that claims to help the ordinary Egyptian people. This is achieved most readily through her depiction of the overcrowded hospital which Ali’s father is left in, where the nurse appears indifferent to his frail condition, as well as a later scene showing Nawara’s family suffering from their water supply being cut off by the government due to lack of funds.
Khalil also adeptly depicts the less-than-idealistic consequences of the revolution by showing the slow dissipation of Nawara’s naivety. This is communicated by her initially unquestioning belief of news reports claiming that each Egyptian citizen will receive a sizeable share of Mubarak’s stolen money, as well as her conviction in the eventual return of her employers from self-imposed exile in London. Slowly, these illusions are replaced with dreams of a better life with Ali and her family, financed by the abandoned wealth of her employers.
Shalabi manages to convincingly capture Nawara’s optimism without ever making it appear false, imbuing her reassurances of her ailing father-in-law and Aly (who doesn’t like the idea of her being the main breadwinner) with a verisimilitude that lulls the viewer into a false sense of security. Her chemistry with Eldin (which brings about the first Nubian-Caucasian kiss in Egyptian cinema) also allows Shahlabi to show the more personal aspects of the character, as Nawara finally gets to be intimate with the man she has been married to for two years. Eldin also gives Aly a spirited energy in his early declarations of love for Nawara, but over the course of the film that energy morphs into frustration and desperation.
Nawara is an involving observation of the difficulties in negotiating life in post-revolution Egypt that avoids simply placing the blame solely on the pre-existing status quo. It’s a must-see for anybody looking for a greater insight into the effects of the Arab Spring on ordinary citizens.