Defying the gaze of others in Abu Bakr Shawky’s Yomeddine |
June 1, 2018
After finishing my interview with director Abu Bakr Shawky and producer Dina Emam at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, I move to my next scheduled meeting — a group discussion with a Kenyan director about her film, which is screening in the Un Certain Regard competition. Shawky is conducting an interview with a foreign journalist nearby, and I can’t help but overhear their conversation. The reporter asks him about the “political and religious messages” behind his debut feature and Palme d’Or contender, Yomeddine (2018).
Later, when I meet with Shawky again, I ask him to comment on that question. “Wherever there is a good story I will go,” he says. “There is an expectation from Middle Eastern films that they have to be about politics and religion, but I don’t want to do that anymore. Not because they are irrelevant, but I watch films from the United States, Europe and Asia that are not political, and I like them. So why can’t a Middle Eastern film not be political in the traditional sense and still be considered enjoyable and significant?”
There were three other Arabic-language films in Cannes this year; Nadine Labaki’s Cafarnaüm (2018), a Lebanese drama about poor children and migrants in the informal housing areas of Beirut; Gaya Jiji’s My Favourite Fabric (2018), a film that tackles female sexuality and the Syrian revolution (guaranteed to be a hit with Western audiences); and Sofia, Meryem BenMbarek’s story about premarital pregnancy in Morocco. Yomeddine stood out among them as a different narrative that is placed within a specific context, yet is universally appealing and relatable nonetheless.