A dark feminist folktale set in 1920s Algeria, “Women’s Expectations” is a bitter indictment of women’s harsh conditions in a patriarchal society. Debuting director Naguel Belouad trowels on the reproductive imagery and grotesque symbolism rather too liberally, but while it’s obvious from the outset where the drama is headed, it remains involving and highly atmospheric, using theatrical-style tableaux to considerable effect. Set apart from normally chaste Algerian cinema by its depiction of sensuality, the film should score festival and cultural TV bookings.
Blaming his downtrodden wives for their inability to reproduce, wealthy but sterile old master potter Brahim (Abdallah Bouzida) takes young Fadah (Tounes Ait Ali) as his third spouse, forcing her to abandon Hemna (Kamel Rouini), whom she really loves. Despite being subjected to fertility rituals, Fadah fails to fall pregnant, too, until Hemna, posing as an itinerant beggar, comes to work on the isolated mountain property. Brahim’s elation about having an heir is erased when his resentful first wife (Doudja Achachi) voices her paternity suspicions, sparking bloody reprisals. The brooding, tragic tale is handsomely mounted in austere sets, effectively bathed in shadow and firelight.