This week in movies you missed: In this 2009 Egyptian flick, a journalist becomes an enemy of the state when she tells the stories of ordinary women on the air. That would never happen to Oprah!
What You Missed
Hebba Younes (Mona Zakki) hosts a popular TV talk show that regularly presents fierce criticism of Egypt's rulers. Her husband (Hassan El Raddad), who works at a government-owned newspaper, fears her outspokenness will cost him a promotion to editor-in-chief, so he begs her to devote a few weeks to stories about things "no one can blame on the government" — fluff and lady stuff.
Hebba concedes, but the stories she discovers turn out not to be so fluffy. Nor are they unrelated to the nation's political corruption.
There's the tale of the beautiful woman who remained a virgin into her golden years rather than acquiesce to a husband's demands; the tale of three sisters who tried to make it on their own and trusted the wrong man; the tale of the educated heiress who turned out to have less power than she thought. We watch them play out in a mixture of interviews and flashbacks.
Why You Missed It
It played in Manhattan, Europe, the Middle East ... but nowhere near here.
Should You Keep Missing It?
For a film about women's oppression in the third world, Scheherazade is ... fun. The colorful, glossy style of director Yousry Nasrallah reminded me of Pedro Almodóvar, minus the outrageousness. (That said, there is one graphic abortion scene that would never in a million years appear in an American movie.)
Nasrallah and Almodóvar seem inspired by the same tradition: old-fashioned, female-centric melodrama. Think of those '30s and '40s movies with Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford fighting with men who done them wrong. Or a Lifetime movie with more social realism and better acting. Despite its modern setting and potentially incendiary social critique, Scheherazade often plays like that.
The women in Hebba's stories aren't just victims; they're decisive actors, and some of them show ferocious determination and anger. I found myself liking them, and wishing that Hollywood's current chick flicks were more like this instead of an endless parade of frothy rom coms, Nicholas Sparks romances with perfect guys and kid-with-cancer weepers. Old-time melodramas acknowledged that in some women's tales there is no Prince Charming, and so does Scheherazade.
One caveat: If you're expecting a film about Egypt's poorest women, this is not it. None of the characters is desperate enough to be forced into a bad marriage or sexual slavery. They're well-off or middle-class, and only a few wear the veil. Yet they operate within a different system of expectations from American women.
Verdict: Melodrama or not, for outsiders, Scheherazade helps put Egypt's revolution in context. It also demonstrates why women's rights remain an ongoing concern there.
Other New Stuff You May Have Missed
- The Fields (Tara Reid in a horror flick about a family terrorized by something unseen)
- Haywire (Steven Soderbergh directs Gina Carano. Many hated it; I did not.)
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012 miniseries of the Dickens novel)
- W.E. (Madonna's movie about Wallis Simpson, with lots of couture)
- Wuthering Heights (2009 BBC miniseries that takes huge liberties with the novel but is perhaps worth watching just for Tom Hardy as Heathcliff.)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)