Cannes Film Review: ‘My Favorite Fabric’

A young woman in 2011 Damascus rejects her mother’s choice of a suitor and fitfully explores her fantasies in this tale of female empowerment.

Gaya Jiji
Manal Issa, Ula Tabari, Souraya Baghdadi, Maria Tannoury, Nathalie Issa, Saad Lostan, Wissam Fares, Amani Ibrahim, Metin Akdülger. (Arabic dialogue)

1 hour 35 minutes

A buttoned-up young woman in 2011 Damascus is lured by the possibility of personal liberation when a brothel opens upstairs in debuting director Gaya Jiji’s fuzzily reasoned “My Favorite Fabric.” Inspired by “Belle du Jour,” though with little of that classic’s trenchant subversiveness, this thematically ambitious femme-centric drama aims to weave together the repressiveness of Syria’s regime with the limited possibilities for female self-expression within that society. The results are uncertain and artificial, full of missed chances that bode ill for a screen life outside a French release and a few festivals.

Life in Syria is becoming increasingly difficult, so for a middle-class family like that of Salwa (Souraya Baghdadi), a woman alone with three daughters, the best way of leaving behind the bombings is to find husbands for her offspring. Nahla (Manal Issa) is the oldest: Flinty and petulant, she clothes herself in dowdy garments that aim to hide an overripe sensuality. Middle sister Myriam (Mariah Tannoury) is considerably more at ease with her body’s charms, while butch younger sister Line (Nathalie Issa) is presumably meant to represent another aspect of being a woman, though director Jiji doesn’t know what to do with the character.

Nahla’s intrigued when Madame Jiji (Ula Tabari) moves in upstairs and starts renovations. At the same time, prospective swain Samir (Saad Lostan) comes calling, freshly arrived from the U.S., to find a Syrian bride and bring her back to the States. As the eldest, Nahla is the obvious choice, but she’s less than taken with the painfully boring suitor and saves her fantasies for an imagined lover (Metin Akdülger), glimpsed in scattered scenes of shared caresses.

Meanwhile, Nahla is intrigued to discover that Madame Jiji’s new place is a brothel. At first she asks for a room to meet her invented boyfriend, but then she decides to try things herself with soldier-client Salem (Wissam Fares), whose peculiar kink is to be told the biblical story of Joseph and his 11 brothers. No doubt the director has a good reason for using this as a metaphor, but most viewers will be hard-pressed to figure out why Salem goes ballistic when Nahla changes the story and tells how Potiphar’s wife was, finally, successful at bedding her object of desire.

Most likely it’s because such a retelling makes the seductress successful in attaining her desires, which can be empowering in some readings, depending on how far one goes to reinvent the tale. Among the problems here is that the film doesn’t go far enough: The brothel is dull (Madame Jiji, while the most interesting character in the movie, is a far cry from Geneviève Page’s Madame Anaïs), Samir is colorless, and Nahla’s discovery of her sense of agency lacks any degree of satisfaction. The film’s title suggests a missed opportunity, since the director does very little to foreground the sensuality of the fabrics that adorn Nahla’s body. Even shots of discarded pieces following Salwa’s repurposing of her eldest’s clothes for slimmer daughter Myriam fail to do anything interesting with the material, on any level.

The use of background news reports to ensure the conflict in Syria isn’t ignored by the audience adds only fitful atmosphere, and a conversation between Salwa and Line regarding popular demonstrations is far too obvious to have any impact. It’s safe to say director Jiji wanted to create an artificial atmosphere, which she successfully achieves in the hermetic qualities of the apartment building, yet allowing stultifying pauses between each line of inconsequential dialogue creates less of a hot house and more an airless void.

Cannes Film Review: 'My Favorite Fabric'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un certain regard), May 11, 2018. Running time: 95 MIN. Original title: Mon tissu préféré.

Production: (France-Germany-Turkey) A Sophie Dulac Distribution release (in France) of a Gloria Films presentation of a Gloria Films, Katuh Studio, Dublin Films, Les Films de la Capitaine, Liman Film, ZDF/Das kleine Fernsehspiel production, in collaboration with ARTE, with the participation of Sophie Dulac Distribution, Urban Distribution Intl., Bir Film, Insignia Film. (International sales: Urban Distribution Intl., Paris.) Producer: Laurent Lavolé. Co-producers: Vanessa Ciszewski, David Hurst, Eiji YNadir Öperli.

Crew: Director: Gaya Jiji. Screenplay: Jiji, in collaboration with Eiji Yamazaki. Camera (color): Antoine Héberlé. Editor: Jeanne Oberson. Music: Peer Kleinschmidt.

With: Manal Issa, Ula Tabari, Souraya Baghdadi, Maria Tannoury, Nathalie Issa, Saad Lostan, Wissam Fares, Amani Ibrahim, Metin Akdülger. (Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • dolittle-DRD_Tsr1Sht_1011_RGB_4_rgb-1

    Robert Downey Jr. Embarks on Perilous Journey in First 'Dolittle' Trailer (Watch)

    Robert Downey Jr. is setting sail with some furry friends in the first trailer for “Dolittle,” Universal Pictures’ reimagining of the classic story about a man who could speak to animals. “We have no choice but to embark on this perilous journey,” he says. Set to a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” [...]

  • Parasite

    Bong Joon Ho's 'Parasite' Posts Powerful Opening in North America

    Bong Joon-Ho’s dark comedy “Parasite,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, has launched with a spectacular $376,264 at three U.S. theaters.  Neon opened “Parasite” at the The Landmark and Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles and at the IFC Center in New York, where it broke the opening record set by 2014’s “Boyhood.” Its per-screen average [...]

  • Joker Movie

    'Joker' Dominates International Box Office With $124 Million

    “Joker” is showing impressive traction internationally with a second weekend of $123.7 million on 24,149 screens in 79 markets — a holdover decline of just 29%. Joaquin Phoenix’s psychological thriller has totaled $351.2 million outside North America after only 12 days in release. And with $192 million in domestic grosses, “Joker” has now topped $543 [...]

  • Joker

    'Joker' Remains Box Office Ruler With $55 Million

    Joaquin Phoenix is king of the North American box office once again as “Joker” scores an easy victory in its second weekend with $55 million at 4,374 sites. “Joker” dominated a trio of new entries with animated comedy “The Addams Family” leading the rest of pack with $30.3 million at 4,007 venues, topping forecasts. Will [...]

  • French director Bertrand Tavernier attends the

    Bertrand Tavernier on Coppola, Scorsese, Cayatte, Cinema’s Bright Future

    Veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier (“Round Midnight”) – president and director of the Institut Lumière and Lumière Festival, which he co-manages with Cannes’ Thierry Frémaux – has played a pivotal role in restoring classic French films and defending the importance of French directors, such as Claude Autant Lara, Henri Decoin and André Cayatte, who were [...]

  • 'Philharmonia'

    French Series 'Philharmonia' Sells to the U.K., the U.S. and Australia (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Philharmonia,” a French thriller series set in the world of a national orchestra, has been acquired in English-speaking territories from Lagardere Studios Distribution. “Philharmonia,” which was created and co-written by Marine Gacem, has been acquired by First Look Media’s Topic for SVOD rights in the U.S., and Walter Presents for the U.K. and Australia. “Philharmonia” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content