Tough yet vulnerable, the street girls of Cairo aren’t normally a welcoming bunch, but helmer Tahani Rached won their trust and in return presents their day-to-day lives with sympathy unadulterated by analysis or First World pity. Docu is the first pic to come out of newly resurrected Studio Masr (aka Misr), once the gold-feathered nest of classic Egyptian cinema and active again under producer Karim Gamal El Din. Both subject and short running time readily lend themselves to fest play.
Already at a disadvantage as impoverished girls in a Muslim society, these teens and pre-teens contend with abusive parents and rape gangs as they try to exist on the dusty streets of the capital.
Opening shot is especially memorable, with Tata, sporting a bright red shirt, riding a horse at near full throttle down the middle of a busy Cairo thoroughfare. She’s the most outwardly charismatic of the group, quick to temper with a swaggering brashness that serves as self-protective armor.
Most of the girls are glue-sniffers, supplementing the cheap high with pills in an effort to stave off thoughts about a tomorrow over which they have no control. Several have scars on their faces left by rapists, though boyish Maryam talks about submitting to forced sex rather than struggling and bearing the permanent sign of humiliation.
No official assistance is visible, but the girls have a sort of den mother in Hind, a devout woman who acts as a big sister to the group, trying as best she can to give them the courage to toss away the glue bags. Still, there’s not much she can offer except a kind face to confide in, especially for new mother Abeer, whose father is ready to kill her for the dishonor of an illegitimate baby. The sight of this tiny infant cared for by teens — children themselves — may not be new, but remains sobering nevertheless.
Some scenes feel repetitious, though they only mimic the cyclical nature of life on the street that offers little chance of escape.
Skillful, tight editing reveals the volatile patterns of behavior, shifting suddenly from fights to confessions, dancing to despair, yet in the end the girls are always fiercely supportive of each other.
While Rached doesn’t ignore the boys sharing the spaces, their presence is an uneasy balance between temporary friend and possible abuser.
With her mostly female crew, Rached managed to get these girls to relax in ways a male helmer would have found impossible. HD lensing, shot mostly at night, is problem-free, facilitating a casual yet vigorous energy befitting life on the streets. Refusing any hint of sentimentalization, Rached sparingly inserts Tamer Karawan’s melodic tunes for a dose of uplift nicely matching the often playful aspects of the girls themselves.