Zuhur’s Daughters is a compassionate and non-judgmental film that chronicles four deeply complex and life-changing years in the lives of siblings Lohan and Samar, two young transgender women who fled Syria with their family of fourteen and are now embarking on a very different – and much freer – life in Germany.
Co-directors Laurentia Genske and Robin Humboldt follow the whole family, as well as the two siblings, as they adjust to a new and challenging life in Germany. Though in its broadest sense this is a film about Lohan and Samar, the stoic, emotional, core of the film is found in their mother Zuhur, a woman who has had to deal with so much in her life and simply wants what is best for her children.
As the film opens Lohan and Samar are busy with their hair and make-up. This is a common theme through the film…but then, they are two young transgender women wanting to look good and get out there to live their lives. At times their confidence is fragile – as Samar says, “people laugh and shout at me” – but they are well aware that a new life in Europe offers them the opportunity to define themselves and their future lives.
That fragility is most exposed when they are at home amongst their parents and younger siblings. As one younger sister comments: “They were nicer when they were younger,” but another quickly adds, “But they look so beautiful with their make-up on!”
Father Talib admits to camera that the situation is “hard for us to comprehend,” and while there is engaging footage of all the family sat on the floor eating together, Lohan and Samar also hint at anger and frustration from their father and how their mother needed to step in at one point. The conflicts they face between their faith and family and their desires to live both freely and authentically are at the core of the story, while at the same time the parents suffer the mounting pressures of their own religious and cultural beliefs.
As the siblings admit, their father “didn’t realise how free” things would be in Europe and, as the film develops, Lohan and Samar discuss – and are filmed with – boyfriends as they look to fully develop who they are. Samar visits a surgeon to discuss surgery, initially to debate what breast size she will go for (she offers up a picture of Kylie Jenner as an ideal), ultimately opting for Gender Reassignment Surgery. (During the consultation she somewhat naively asks the doctor if she can actually give birth.)
There are dark moments in the doc as they seek therapy, become tearful as they worry about the future and discuss boyfriends, family and hairstyles, but there is also an underlying sense of filmmaker support, which enables the development of an intimate and gently revealing film. The final scenes of the siblings lying in a pool looking confident and at ease speaks volumes. Though the title may be somewhat modest the film is ultimately engaging and challenging.
Germany, 2021, 89mins
Dir Laurentia Genske, Robin Humboldt
Production CORSO Film, ZDF
Producers Erik Winker, Martin Roelly, Ümit Uludağ
Cinematography Laurentia Genske, Robin Humboldt
Editor Carina Mergens
(First published in Business Doc Europe)