Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story (2009) Review

This one took me completely by surprise!

by Martin Hafer

When this movie began, I was very surprised. In the opening scene, I saw Hebba (Mona Zaki) wearing only a camisole and kissing her husband passionately. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this scene but it surprised me how sexy she was behaving....nothing like the austere stereotype of women I had about Islamic nations. This is NOT a complaint of any type...just surprise on my part because of my ignorance about what it's like to live in Egypt or watch Egyptian films. This is only the second Egyptian movie I have seen...the other being made way back in the 1950s. But there ended up being far, far more about this movie that surprised me.

Hebba is a very successful career woman. After all, she hosts her own television talk show and is quite famous. In addition, her husband is a very influential executive and together they have a life that seems ideal. At the same time, the husband really wants a promotion….and Hebba’s very liberal-minded talk show does not endear him to his very traditional bosses. One even suggests he talk to Hebba to advise her to tone down her rhetoric and choose nice, safe topics instead of ones that challenge the system.

At first, Hebba tries to do this and she even schedules a safe sort of topic…love. But her guest apparently has a lot to say…and begins talking about how unfair and sexist their society can often be…as well as how content she is now living without a man in her life! Instead of avoiding controversy, this show directly challenged the expectation that a woman marry and live happily ever after.

Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story
Directed by
Yousry Nasrallah
Mona Zaki, Mahmoud Hemida, Hassan El Raddad
Release Date
12 August 2011
Martin's Grade: A+

Hebba’s next shows ends up courting even more controversy. She interviews a woman who was jailed for murdering a man…a murder that seems a bit justified when you learn her sad story. She also interviews a woman who was essentially raped by her fiancé…who then dumped her because she was now ‘soiled’!
Where this all goes, I won’t say as it will spoil the suspense. Suffice to say, however, that it’s a film that demands you have some Kleenex nearby. It’s really almost impossible to watch what follows without being strongly impacted.

I did not expect to see a film about feminism and women’s rights coming from Egypt. It really challenged me…and I know it made a real strong impact when the film debuted at home. Mona Ziki herself was apparently barraged with complaints by her countrymen and women--with folks demanding the film be censored in favor of ‘clean cinema’! It’s obviously a very brave film…one that is incredibly well made, extremely compelling and it among the best foreign films I have ever seen. This one deserves to be seen and is very much like an Egyptian version of The Joy Luck Club…but even better.

If you want to see this film, in the States it’s on Netflix. It’s also one you might want to consider buying…it’s that good.

3 Week Diet

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