Amira is Mohamed Diab's third feature film. And as with his previous work, Cairo 678 and the 2016 Cannes title Clash, the Egyptian filmmaker finds a new way to present cinema to his audience. Part social commentary, part in-depth probe into the innermost crevices of human nature and, of course 100% entertainment, Amira stands in a class of its own. Calling it simply Arab cinema would be doing the film a disservice.
Even if the story of Amira does take place in the Arab world. In Palestine to be exact -- Jordan substituting as a filming location, since entry into the Territories can be tricky. But what Diab himself calls the theme of "nature vs. nurture" as far as children born or bred are concerned, the concept of belonging, as well as the rejection of anything that is different from us -- "the Other" -- are all universal and global ideas.
Newcomer Tara Abboud embodies perfectly, and with the right vulnerability the character of Amira, a 17-year old girl who has grown up believing that her father is Nuwar (played by the spellbinding Ali Suliman), a hero who has been in jail all her life because he fought for the Palestinian cause. But when her mother Warda (Saba Mubarak) agrees to have another child with Nuwar, things get complicated.
Because Amira was conceived by artificial insemination. At the time, Nuwar's sperm was smuggled out of the prison with the help of an Israeli prison guard, and when the procedure is repeated to conceive the next child, the fertility doctors reveal that Nuwar is sterile, has always been. And his DNA doesn't match his daughter's.
So whose child is Amira? And does she still belong to the father she has known all her life? Is the family she has grown up into still her family, even though they are paternal relatives? But, perhaps most importantly, just who is her father? And the answer to that last question threatens to become Amira's undoing...
While answering even one of those questions would give away the film and its complex and fascinating plot, one thing we can say is that Amira boasts a fantastic cast, which includes Ziad Bakri and Waleed Zuaiter, and they make every discovery worth waiting for. These actors, a veritable Who's Who of Palestinian cinema, create a sense of reality that allows full immersion into the story. The cinematography by Ahmed Gabr is intimate and unobtrusive (we forget we are watching a film and feel more like the proverbial fly on the wall) and art director Nael Kanj manages to make the Jordanian locations look and feel like a Palestinian town, its interiors like those of homes of friends in Nazareth and Bethlehem.
The one thing that took this writer briefly out from the story, and reminded me I was watching a film, is one bit of impossible casting towards the end which jarred me right out of the narrative. But revealing that would also ruin the story and the ending of Amira.
What I can reveal is that the ending does leave the audience breathless.
And now that Diab has been chosen to direct the Marvel Studios series Moon Knight, Amira should be high on everyone's must-watch list. Not just because it marks a milestone in the filmmaker's career as the first film he shot outside Egypt, but also for the questions it asks of us, the audience, in recognising how we identify and treat those who are different from us. Those who cannot fit into the boxes, or identities which are acceptable by our society.
Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia 2021, 98 mins
Director Mohamed Diab
Screenplay Mohamed Diab, Khaled Diab, Sherin Diab
Production Nael Kanj
International sales Agathe Mauruc- Pyramide International
Producers Film Clinic (Mohamed Hefzy, Daniel Ziskind), Agora Audiovisuals (Mona Abdel Wahab), Acamedia Pictures (Moez Masoud), Taher Media Production, The Imaginarium Films, Hany Abu-Assad, Amira Diab, Sarah Gohar
Cinematography Ahmed Gabr
Editor Ahmed Hafez
Music Khaled Dagher
Main cast Saba Mubarak, Ali Suliman, Tara Abboud, Waleed Zuaiter, Ziad Bakri, Suhaib Nashwan, Reem Talhami