IT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FROM HAMMAM SOKHN!!!
One big advantage that film festivals have at their disposal is the ability to show off films and, sometimes, TV episodes on a global scale. This year’s edition of SXSW Film Festival was no different, as it showcased truly visionary work from evolving directors, actors, screenwriters and whatmore. It’s in that context that we can find this Hammam Sokhn – otherwise known as Trapped – the only Arab film to have its world premiere at the festival, not to mention the first Egyptian movie to be produced in over 10 years!
The film follows several women in their own quest for freedom, either from the earthly realm or from their state of mind, in the midst of the chaos that erupted during the revolution that took place in Egypt in the 25th of January, 2011.
Hammam Sokhn might just be one of the most difficult films to watch, and there is a plethora of reasons behind that assessment. For starters, its timeline can be found during the early days of the revolution, which turned the lives of Egyptians upside down, especially for the commonfolk, who find themselves struggling to survive. Even to this day, we can see the aftershocks of that event, which brought the attention of the world to thoses events. Director and writer Manal Khaled, alongside with her co-writer Rasha Azab, manage to draw from those experiences – which they also lived through – and deliver a film that’s uncompromising in that depiction.
When we think of Egypt, we’re used to think about larger-than-life cities and lifestyles, courtesy of its portrait in several Western movies. However, Hammam Sokhn is different, as it depicts a city that looked like it just came through a small war. We see rubble, abandoned cars, houses nearly collapsed, not to mention the struggle to reach out through phone calls et all. It’s illustrated as a war zone, which doesn’t seem too far off from the reality on this side of the screen. And thanks to the surprising camera work, we get a front row seat to all the chaos that’s taking place.
Be that as it may, Hammam Sokhn‘s main highlight resides in the stories that it tries to tell. And through the runtime, we get to see several women in their own struggles. The first one sees a woman taking refuge at a local mobile store in order to evade the police; the second one centers on a nurse who leaves her young daughter alone at home for work; and another woman finds herself trapped in the building block where said nurse lives, and creates an adorable, albeit bittersweet, bond with the little girl. These stories do have potencial to be something more, but they end up being the weakest part of the film, especially due to the fact that, in overall, we don’t know much about these women in order to truly understand their struggles for a better life or a life of freedom. It’s something that could be improved through a bit longer runtime or even small details that could help enrich their backstories.
That being said, there’s a final story, which is the film’s “stroke of genius”. In this one, we see two women getting arrested by the authorities for suspition of inticing the revolution. Rather than going to a standard prison cell, they end up in a improvised one, in the form of a local bathhouse. It’s there where they meet the bathhouse’s boss, an employee and her daughter. The context might be the same, but the approach is completely different, as we get to see the women in action to break free from the place, while also getting into arguments due to their own perspectives on life. Despite being so different from each other, they end up finding some sort of common ground, providing a closer approach, making us getting to know a lot more about them, and connect to them more efficiently. It all culminates in the final scene of the film, which is powerful in the womanhood sense, but also acts as a profound message about our own quest for freedom, and that having a support group next to a person is a major stepping stone to that objective.
Hammam Sokhn isn’t as perfect as it could be. Its concept could be vastly improved with a slightly bigger runtime and a better understanding of some of its characters. However, it’s also a powerful story of women trying to fight for their freedom and finding hope in the person next to them. It’s touching and hopeful, a powerful contrast to the unforgiving status quo of the revolution in Egypt. Let’s hope we get to see more from Khaled in a near future, because this feature debut might have a few flaws, but it makes a strong first impression of her capabilities as a director and writer.