×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Factory Girl’

This femme-centric melodrama from Egyptian director Mohamed Khan merely reinforces rigid patriarchal assumptions.

With:

Yasmin Raeis, Hany Adel, Salwa Khattab, Salwa Mohammad Ali, Ibtihal El Serety, Hanan Adel, Khairy Beshara, Ibrahim Salah, Salma Dahab, Lana Mushtak, Magda Munir, Yussria Al-Maghribia, Noorhan Emad Edin, Rizk Ramadan, Menna Al-Lithi, Solafa Ghanim, Batul El-Haddad, Reham Dissouki, Raghda Said, Maha Abdallah, Mariam Mehallawi, Soad Al-Kadi, Waffa Al-Sharqawi, Gihad Mahdi, Noha Foad, Noha Haraz.

Given Mohamed Khan’s long track record as a helmer with “new realist” credentials and a history of female-centric pics, it was expected that “Factory Girl” would fit the same mold. Unfortunately, although he and wife/scripter Wessam Suleiman probably mean to convey a femme-power message, this tale of a sweatshop seamstress accused of losing her virginity largely reinforces rigid patriarchal assumptions, and does so in standard Egyptian meller style. Lead thesp Yasmin Raeis deserved her best-actress win in Dubai, and “Factory Girl” is likely to play strongly in the region, yet few international fests will jump on the bandwagon.

More was certainly expected from Khan. Rather than using melodrama in a Sirkian way to comment on gender disparities and class hierarchies, he plays it straight, in the manner of hundreds of Egyptian films where emotions are writ larger than life, and subtext is either overwhelmed or nonexistent. Like many young women of the working classes, headscarf-wearing Hayam (Raies) slaves away at a sewing machine in a Cairo textile factory. She and her colleagues swoon when the less-than-swoonable Salah (Hany Adel, colorless) takes over as foreman; there’s an especially embarrassing scene at a beach outing, when the women behave like prepubescent teens at a Justin Bieber event.

Hayam comes from a strongly matriarchal household: She has a stepfather but he’s barely in the picture, and her mom (Salwa Khattab) is the biggest personality around. Also on hand is Hayam’s aunt Samra (Salwa Mohammad Ali), a divorcee whose unmarried status makes her a target for all sorts of come-ons while also placing her in a suspect position with other women.

Salah’s superior station in life makes him an unattainable fantasy for Hayam’s co-workers, but she lays siege, insinuating herself in his home when he’s forced to take sick leave. Salah enjoys the attention, a kiss results, and then a positive pregnancy test discovered in the garbage at work is presumed to be Hayam’s. No one thinks twice, including her mother and best friend: Hayam must be the fallen woman.

On paper, it sounds like a great opportunity to comment on presumptions of innocence, double standards of virginity (upended in Khan’s “Downtown Girls”), and the limited avenues available to women accused of moral offenses. Instead, apart from a contrived finale whose message, at least, is liberating, “Factory Girl” reinforces a harsh moral code by which a woman’s purity is her most important asset and its loss out of wedlock the ultimate sin.

In an interesting twist, Hayam refuses to address the accusations, expecting those nearest and dearest to recognize her unblemished character and dismiss the charges. This rebuff could have been developed in a way that strengthened the character’s sense of pride, yet instead she continues to humiliate herself before a scornful Salah and never questions whether this emphasis on her virginity contributes to her limited options as a woman. Some may say it would be too bold a statement in today’s increasingly conservative Egypt (in contrast with most of Khan’s previous films, nearly every woman here wears a hijab), though the point is debatable.

Besides the marked presence of the headscarf, accurately reflecting both the characters’ class and the nation’s shift toward a more demonstrable brand of Islam, the film also moves away from earlier Khan pics such as “Dreams of Hind and Camelia,” in which female solidarity formed a front against societal pressures. Here the women are quick to ostracize: Had Samra’s role been more developed, she could have provided her niece with the strength to withstand the accusations. It’s possible Khan and Suleiman mean to address these issues, yet the script is too weak and recycled to make critical comments on Egypt’s changing social landscape.

Performances are largely over-the-top, with far too many lines delivered in near hysterical voices; the style regrettably elides with Western stereotypes of Egyptian melodramas. Khan’s certainly aware of this throwback, and he’s included several scenes with people watching old romantic musicals on TV, apparently out of a nostalgic longing for a past which, onscreen at least, played with gender and class tropes more freely than seen here. Prominent lenser Mahmoud Lotfi (“Coming Forth by Day”) sheds his indie aesthetic for standard, overlit scenes indistinguishable from those in countless other sudsers.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Factory Girl'

Reviewed at Dubai Film Festival (Muhr Arab Feature, competing), Dec. 7, 2013. Running time: 96 MIN. Original title: "Fatat el masnaa"

Production:

(Egypt-United Arab Emirates) A DayDream Art Prod. presentation of a DayDream Art Prod., Wika, Middlewest Films production. Produced by Mohamed Samir. Executive producer, Ahmed Youssef.

Crew:

Directed by Mohamed Khan. Screenplay, Wessam Suleiman. Camera (color), Mahmoud Lotfi; editor, Dina Farouk; music, George Kazazian; production designer, Ahmed Abbas; costume designer, Nayira Al-Dahshoury; sound (Dolby Digital), Refaat Samir, Ahmed Gaber; casting, Jennifer Leigh Peterson.

With:

Yasmin Raeis, Hany Adel, Salwa Khattab, Salwa Mohammad Ali, Ibtihal El Serety, Hanan Adel, Khairy Beshara, Ibrahim Salah, Salma Dahab, Lana Mushtak, Magda Munir, Yussria Al-Maghribia, Noorhan Emad Edin, Rizk Ramadan, Menna Al-Lithi, Solafa Ghanim, Batul El-Haddad, Reham Dissouki, Raghda Said, Maha Abdallah, Mariam Mehallawi, Soad Al-Kadi, Waffa Al-Sharqawi, Gihad Mahdi, Noha Foad, Noha Haraz.

More Film

  • Jon Voight'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' film

    President Trump to Award Jon Voight the National Medal of Arts

    President Trump will present actor Jon Voight, musician Allison Krauss, and mystery writer James Patterson with the national medal of arts. Voight is one of few in Hollywood who has been vocal about his support of President Trump in the past, calling him “the greatest president of this century.” The White House announced four recipients [...]

  • Zack Snyder arrives at the 2018

    'Justice League': Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder Support Release of 'Snyder Cut'

    Zack Snyder, Gal Gadot, and Ben Affleck have taken to social media to request that Warner Bros. release the Snyder cut of “Justice League.” Snyder, who helmed “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” and was “Justice League’s” original director, had to leave production on the film partway through after his daughter died, with Joss [...]

  • Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On?

    Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On? (Column)

    Do we choose sides when we watch “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s brilliant and wrenching drama of divorce? The question, on the face of it, sounds facile in a dozen ways the movie isn’t. Rarely are there winners in divorce, and there are two sides to every breakup. “Marriage Story” is a movie that reflects that [...]

  • The Letter

    IDFA: Kenyan Documentary ‘The Letter’ Debuts Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given access to the trailer for Kenyan documentary “The Letter,” by producer-director duo Christopher King and Maia Lekow, which world premieres Nov. 23 at IDFA. The film follows a young man who travels to his grandmother’s rural home when he learns she’s been accused of witchcraft. He soon discovers that the threatening letter she [...]

  • Warner Bros. Box Office

    With 'Good Liar' and 'Doctor Sleep,' Warner Bros.' Box Office Misfortunes Mount

    When Warner Bros. was crafting its 2019 slate, the studio took pains to offer more than just superhero movies. To be sure, there were lots of masked vigilantes too, but more than any of its big studio brethren, Warner Bros. was willing to take a risk on the kinds of thrillers, adult dramas, coming-of-age stories, [...]

  • Constance Wu

    Will Constance Wu Ever Watch 'Hustlers'?

    Despite her leading role, Constance Wu has never seen “Hustlers” and, spoiler alert, it’s very unlikely that she will. Wu explained why she doesn’t want to watch the film to Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”) during a conversation for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” “This is crazy,” Kaling said in the beginning of the interview. “I [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    'Ford v Ferrari' Outmatches 'Charlie's Angels' at International Box Office

    Disney and 20th Century Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari” sped ahead of fellow new release, Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels,” at the international box office. Director James Mangold’s racing drama collected $21.4 million from 41 foreign markets, representing 67% of its overseas rollout. “Ford v Ferrari” also kicked off with $31 million in North America, bringing its global [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content