CAIRO: Veteran director Mohamed Khan premiered his latest film “Factory Girl” on Saturday night, after an almost seven year hiatus since his last film, making it his first film since the revolution.
Yet, despite the years away, Khan did not abandon his distinctive approach to film-directing, characterized by an empathic simplicity, and a restrained commentary on contemporary social conditions.
Khan furthermore does not abandon his feminized perspective, also characteristic of the two films preceding “Factory Girl,” as he follows the central character Hiyam (Yasmine Raees) on her unexpected journey.
The film begins by telling the story of a girl who showed all indications of having the intent to follow purely with the prescribed conventions that her surroundings had set out for her. But an unusually elevated guilelessness, coupled with the unwavering imperative to find a man – as internally motivated as it was a response to external pressures – sent her on an entirely separate trajectory.
The film could potentially be telling the story of how a society feeds on itself, or at the very least feeds on the weakest links that keep its most powerful in place. But Hiyam later arises as a kind of inverted mutineer; the more injustice she allows herself to undergo at the hands of her people, the bigger the shock of her final revelation.
The film does not shy away from what it is. Hiyam does not begin as a classic feminist heroin by any means – and in any case the film is not really “feminist” in any traditional sense. She is unusually forward for a woman, but all in the quest to adhere to the supply and demand framework of finding a “good husband” – whereby the film makes all too clear that demand far outreaches supply.
In a street “cursed” by families that would only bear girls, a new supervisor Salah (Hany Adel) becomes the awaited savior for a whole gaggle of factory girls. Hiyam, in particular, actively pursues Salah, while he carelessly plays into the illusions that she harbors for the two of them.
Throughout the film, Salah becomes more and more like an antichrist in disguise, and Hiyam arises as something between the sacrificial lamb and the redeemer, though the film seems to beg the question: Who does she redeem, besides herself?
The final scene sees Hiyam dancing at Salah’s wedding to another woman, and her seeming victory dance draws the admiration of her fellow factory girls, after the women of the film seem to have colluded to spare her of a much worse fate.
But Hiyam is nonetheless dancing, at least partially, for Salah. Further, this is preceded by several scenes where other women in the film continue to be (willingly) bound to their abusive men by the same social contract.
Nonetheless, while indirectly pointing to the revolution that preceded it in one of the scenes, the film seems to refrain from prescribing commandments, suggesting instead that there are more subtle means for deconstructing social norms that are more endemic to the norms themselves.
The film opens in theaters nationwide on March 19.