On Sunday, 7 April, NVICinema explored the work of Director Tolba Radwan, by screening Al-Safeera Aziza (Ambassador Aziza), starring Soad Hosni and Shokry Sarhan. The black and white film was made in 1961, and features the Downtown locations of Al-Hussein and Sayeda Zeinab.
The tale begins with the relocation of Ahmed (Shokry Sarhan), a young teacher, to a new apartment in the Al-Hussein area. The street in which he lives is controlled by a bully, the butcher, who conducts all his business by using violence. He is married and has a paternal half-sister, who also lives with him. The sister is Aziza, played by Soad Hosni. The butcher is a bully with his wife and sister as well, prohibiting them to go out and causing harm to any man who dares look at them.
As the film progresses we also find out that the butcher has hijacked his sister’s maternal inheritance. He had forced her to sign a release of her fortune and has been squandering it on women. Through threats of violence he manages to maintain control over all the people around him.
Aziza manages to maneuver within the confines of her brother’s misogyny. She works her way to meeting the young teacher, and then quickly attracts him by providing him with food and cleaning his apartment. At first it appears that Aziza is moving from one position of inferiority to another. However, the movie shows that Aziza has been in control of the relationship all along.
When Ahmed proposes to the butcher in order to marry Aziza her brother reacts violently and attempts to kill him. The police are called, but Ahmed refuses to snitch on his future brother-in-law. This compels the butcher to approve of the marriage, albeit hesitantly. The only reason he refused the marriage was the threat of the new husband demanding Aziza’s inheritance.
After the wedding, Aziza demands that Ahmed stands up to her brother and get her inheritance. He refuses to cause trouble so Aziza withholds sex on their wedding night and continues to do so for seven days. Only when she threatens his manhood and calls him a coward does Ahmed spring to action. It culminates into a violent fight with the butcher in which Ahmed succeeds to get Aziza’s inheritance.
The film explores a problem that faced women at the time, especially those that were not educated like Aziza. It also shows the wit of Aziza in working within the confines of society and family to get what she wants. However, the film is limited to Aziza’s demanding that a man (her husband) fights her battles for her and we do not see Aziza in a leading role.
The film is complimented with some humorous sketches that have caused audiences to belt out in laughter. Despite the movie was made in 1961, it succeeded in showcasing a still current societal problem in a funny and interesting context, which is more than can be said for many modern films.