If sociological interest were the basis for a film award, then an argument could be made for “Women Looking for Freedom” winning a prize, but, even so, its designation as Best Arab Film at the Cairo fest was a bit much. Notwithstanding her reputation as the Middle East’s leading feminist director, Ines El Degheidy is much more like Jacqueline Susann than Marilyn French. Her tale of three Arab women in Paris exploring their identities boasts mediocre thesping and worse direction. Auds won’t be as welcoming as was the Cairo jury.
Opening promises more than it delivers: Lebanese journalist Amal (Nicole Bardawil) interviews young Arab women in Paris about why they left their homelands and whether or not they want to return home. Amal herself fled war-torn Beirut (flashbacks are risibly inept), and has taken to masochistic promiscuity ever since losing sight of her b.f. during a round-up there.
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Her best friend Aida (Dalia El Beheiry) is a painter (complete with beret), who tossed off her husband’s ultra-misogynist chains back in Egypt and left the family to pursue her burgeoning career.
The two women meet Souad (Sanaa Mozian), a young naive Moroccan from the working class who fled to Paris because her brothers threatened her life. She’s become the kept woman of a slovenly boutique owner who keeps her on a short leash. Souad remains too meek to demand her freedom.
El Degheidy’s world is rigidly composed of either good or bad men, and, despite feminist leanings, all of her characters need a Mr. Right: Amal’s masochism softens under the sway of stable colleague Kamal (Hisham Selim), while Aida uses the love of a good man (heartthrob Ahmed Ezz) to integrate her old life with the new.
Both women urge Souad to break from her sleazy boss and encourage her to try a career as pop star, though she’s pining for a French cutie.
The laudable issues here — the repression of women in Arab countries, their treatment as mere objects, and the ever-present yearning for home — deserve better treatment than El Degheidy delivers. The cast members, mostly former models, look good but need serious acting lessons, and lensing tends to the front-and-center school, with uniform lighting and laughable set-ups.