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“Lesbian film” was one sensationalist headline I read while researching up and coming Egyptian director Aiten Amin’s short 10 minute film Ragelha (‘Her man’).
But before I decided to write or not to write, like a good journalist I tracked down the director and got a copy of the film.
And let me just say, I’m impressed.
The story revolves around Zeina (pictured right), a rural peasant woman who, out of jealousy, seduces her husband’s second wife, leaving a mark on the young girl’s breast to make their husband think his new wife was cheating on him.
The furor, of course, is not about the social issues the film tackles but about the short scene where Zeina seduces the second wife. I’ll admit it is slightly unsettling, and the scene is slightly explicit. However, as the director says here:
“It’s not shown in a dirty or sleazy way but in a classy and careful manner […] They are circumstances which happen everyday and should be spoken about, not swept under the carpet.”
What critics have failed to realize is that the story—written by Egyptian novelist Adhaf Soueif—offers a probing insight into what desperation and jealousy can make people do, as well as the intricacies of human psyche and the motivations that drive people’s actions. The ‘sex scene’ in the movie isn’t there to offer cheap thrills or stir up controversy, and the fact that it is unsettling is what makes it really add to the movie.
Zeina isn’t in love with a woman–she’s in love with her husband and wants to keep him all to herself. Which is even more interesting when you consider that she was forced to marry him when she was 15 and he raped her repeatedly for months.
She hates the fact that he married another woman, and yet she’s utterly dependent on him (“You should be thankful he still spends money on you” a mother/grandmother tells her in the movie). So how to regain some ‘control’ over her life? She’s expected to put up and shut up, but she didn’t. Her actions, though debatable of course, illustrate her way of dealing with a decision which affected her so drastically and yet she had no role in making.
There are several moments in the film that deliver emotional punches, addressing issues such as child marriage, domestic abuse, a ‘woman’s’ place in marriage and more.
Sexuality is also an important aspect of the movie. I particularly like this article’s point about how the director focused on showing the ‘flesh’ (we never see the husband’s face, just his chest and hands), though I don’t know if I’d agree with the statement that some women “in a particular social stratum are obsessed with sexuality.”
Instead, I’d perhaps point out that sexuality in general is a topic that both males and females focus on, which leads to debates on so many issues ranging from premarital sex and hymen restoration surgeries to circumcision and women’s honor. And let’s leave it at that.
All in all, the movie is a great effort, and shows that Egyptians are finally ready to ‘talk’ about what goes on behind closed doors. The thing is, are we all ready to listen?
*If you’re interested, you can read my story Out of the Closet and onto the Screen, where I interviewed A Jihad for Love‘s director Parvez Sharma and the gay Muslim imam featured in the movie.
**Please let’s not get into a debate about homosexuality in Islam. As mentioned in our comment moderation policy, “This blog is about the media/pop culture representation of Muslim women. Please make sure comments are relevant to the posts, and do not get bogged down in historical, religious, or political tangents.”
Editor’s Note: The intent of this article is to analyze the portrayal of Muslim women in a film, not to debate about whether Islam allows homosexuality. Comments that attempt to argue, preach, or condemn will be edited or not allowed.