Review: My Favourite Fabric
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2018: With her strange and allegorical first full-length film, Gaya Jiji’s angle is an interesting one from which to explore the condition of women and the Syrian War
Once upon a time there was a very handsome young man who loved to dream. He longed to travel, but his father, of whom he was the favourite son, loved him too deeply to let him go. His 11 brothers, driven mad with jealousy, thought only of killing him… This is the story recounted in the film by Syrian director Gaya Jiji, My Favourite Fabric [+see also:
film profile],her first full-length feature unveiled in the Un Certain Regard section of the 71st Cannes Film Festival; a story that is far from innocuous when told to a soldier in a Damas bedroom, in the wake of the initial Arab Spring uprisings in Syria, during March 2011 and as a prelude to the terrifying cycle of violence which continues to engulf the country to this day.
At first glance, however, the director doesn’t seem to go down this rather obvious path, focusing instead on Nahla (the superb Manal Issa), a young 25-year-old woman and sales assistant in a clothes shop who lives with her mother, Salwa (Souraya Baghdadi) and her younger sisters, Myriam (Mariah Tannoury) and Line (Nathalie Issa). While the kitchen radio feeds the family daily news of growing tensions in Deera each and every morning, Nahla awaits the arrival of a fellow Syrian woman who lives in the US and is coming to meet her so as to arrange a marriage which will require Nahla leaving Syria. An idea which in reality, doesn’t sit well with her personality because in actual fact she finds communal life stifling, and her daydreams overflow with sentimental erotica (though still on the chaste side) for which we’re not really convinced there’s any real basis in reality. Hidden desires ultimately lead her to discourage her suitor, Samir (Saad Lostan), who will prefer Myriam in the end anyway. But crucially, Nahal becomes increasingly involved in the life of her new neighbour, Mrs. Jiji (Ula Tabari), whose apartment becomes the backdrop for a rather taboo trade…
Peppered with a few red herrings that help maintain the sense of mystery, My Favourite Fabric proves to be an intriguing film of two distinct levels: on the one hand, it’s a fine portrayal of the life of a Syrian woman who has her aspirations, her ghosts and her fears (in which impressive close-ups and skilful continuity editing play a huge role), but, at its heart, this film is also an allegory of the beginnings of war. These two layers move against one another, creating a friction and bringing forth a film which is increasingly strange, sometimes verging on odd, sadly to the detriment of the overall coherence of the film which otherwise shows great promise; a heterogeneity that is sustained by an excellent accelerated driving sequence in Damas, along with archive footage of the stirrings of war; a war in which the powers-that-be continue to drop bombs and put pay to the dreams of the Syrian people.
My Favourite Fabric is executively produced in France by Gloria Films, co-produced by Katuh Studio (Germany), Dublin Films (France), Les Films de la Capitaine (France) and Liman Film (Turkey), with international sales managed by UDI (Urban Distribution International).
(Translated from French)
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