The title of a rather cheesy song by a Swedish girl called Emilia that was a big hit somewhere in the late nineties. More than ten years down the line it still pops up in my head every now and again. In spite of being a big girl these days, it still is a big, big world too. Which I find hugely fascinating yet intimidating at occassions...

Sunday, 2 October 2011

At Night, They Dance

At Night, They Dance from Les films du tricycle on Vimeo.

This documentary depicts the life of Reda and her family. She is a beautiful woman, with amazing, outstanding eyes, though it is quite clear life hasn’t been lenient with her.
For generations, belly dance has been the profession for the females in her family, from mother to daughter. Funnily enough, it is not quite clear what the men do: there is none, with the exception of a little naked toddler… Whoever cannot dance (anymore), makes costumes or acts as a mediator. Reda jokes how her daughter Amira, a sulky, capricious belly dancer whose drug problem is largely ignored in the documentary, came into this world dancing!

Reda’s life is not an easy one. Her flat looks barren and shabby. Nevertheless, it is always full of life, with women playing the leading part in whatever is taking place. If men visit Reda, it is as if they have a private audience with the queen. She’s a tough woman, tried and tested by life. Not easy on her loved ones, though she is there for them in times of trouble. When Amira finds herself in trouble for not showing up for a performance at a wedding, Reda knows how to save the day. Mainly by talking: she surely does have the gift of the gab.

The way in which people communicate with one another in this documentary is quite fierce to begin with. At the beginning of the movie, there’s a scene where the women argue. Their use of language is at least to say florid, though not of the kind suitable for sensitive ears! Reda and another woman, either her mother or an older sister, have an argument for an unknown reason. They don’t go easy on each other: “You shriek like a whore”. Ironically enough, they criticize one another for their religion: “You do the pilgrimage and you rent costumes”.

The lives of Reda’s offspring aren’t always a bed of roses either. Amira seems shallow and frivolous, fifteen years old Hind abandoned her mother to live with her father and is arrested by the end of the movie because she’s a dancer. She’s locked up at a police station for days in a row with nobody to pay her bail. Her mother is clearly desperate for not having any money to have her released in spite of their quarrel. The father can’t or won’t pay for unknown reason and at the end of the story it’s an admirer who pays. Somewhat disturbing is the scene in which a girl with a wig identical to Amara’s receives instruction from Reda to dance in a more seductive way… When she turns around, it appears to be one of the younger daughters; she can’t be older than ten..

The last scene of the movie is moving. Reda is standing on her balcony, and standing behind her it’s clear to see she’s crying. Not for the first time during the whole of the movie, but definitely the first time she comes across as sincere!

The documentary was inspired by Karin van de Nieuwkerk’s book “A trade like any other” on Cairo entertainment industry around Muhamed Ali Street. She already stated in her book, based on her thesis written in the mid-nineties, that whilst for men this business is simply a way to make a living, women are regarded as bad and dishonourable.
No wonder Reda’s crying, with her daughter being held…