Forget Freud; how does Om Abdu interpret her dream of seeing a pale blue shirt on her sister’s husband? Clearly it means he’s cheating on her sister. Far-fetched? Not so far; the next day she and her sister discovered this to be true.
What women dream about and how they interpret their dreams formed the essence of Amal Ramses’s first documentary “Just Dreams. Ranging in ages from university student to the director’s own mother, the women featured in her film defy expectations and stereotypes about Egyptian women – with often startling revelations.
Asmaa dreams of walking through three sets of open doors into a dark room with flickering lights. Scared because the doors were unlocked and anyone could get in, the phone rings with her mother on the other side reassuring her that they know the neighbors and there is nothing to fear.
Om Tareq, an older woman, has a dreadful dream where she has to climb over many walls, from one house to another, not aware of where she is going or what she is running from but constantly climbing the huge walls. She says she has “no nice dreams.
Om Abdu once dreamt that she was sleeping with her son but he looked like her husband. The layman’s interpretation of sleeping with a stranger is that the woman is pregnant and sure enough, she soon discovered that she was.
Reda also has dreams about her children but they are always fearful – that she will lose them or that they will die. She keeps a close watch on them after such dreams.
The recounting of the dreams, however, is just a mechanism Ramses uses to take the viewer deep into these women’s lives. Some reluctantly and some eagerly, the women slowly reveal their personalities through the conversations and interpretations of their dreams, or even through their reluctance to answer certain questions.
Ramses admits that the dreams were a vehicle, not a destination.
We come to know about Asmaa’s family turmoil and internal conflicts. She is a young art student who lives away from home because of troubled relationships with her parents, and father in particular.
Although he is usually abroad, they can’t seem to get along and she resents how he treats her mother, with whom she is often in a tussle of complaints and grievances.
“He gives the best of himself to others, she says, explaining that her father reserves kindness and humor for outsiders, leaving nothing for her mother. She feels sadness, even pity, for her mother. But her mother tells her she doesn’t love her, just like her father.
Asmaa is also conflicted over religion. Through her experience, she presents another side to the seemingly devout woman not often revealed.
She quietly contemplates the question of God’s existence, even though she is veiled.
She has concluded, by sense, that there is a god, a feeling she has felt more after removing the veil through subtle reassurances and minor incidents. She never wanted the responsibility of taking on or off the veil, both moves she says influenced others. “It’s not my business.
Perhaps this is why she feels fear in her dream about the day the sun will rise from the West, when “the time to repent is over. In her dream, a giant mass of black clouds and a giant mass of white clouds move closer until the former overtakes the latter, causing unrelenting rainfall to pour down.
Reda also had a destructive relationship with her father, which has influenced her relationship with men for the rest of her life. She felt betrayed when he married his second wife (who, incidentally, she dreamed she kept beating in another dream) because she “took [their] father away.
Her strength, and perhaps anger, is revealed through her candor. “I have the courage to fight 10,000 men. Because of this, she says, it would “make no difference to her if her husband left, fell ill, or died even.
“Marriage has no purpose, she says, “no need. “A woman can do everything. She feels that the family is all relying on her when she wishes she could lean on her husband and depend on another person.
This woman, sitting on the floor in her galabaya, breaks common perceptions of dependent women in favor of the recently emerging realization that women are increasingly carrying the burdens and costs of securing a family.
At the same time, Reda is still part of a traditional community which influences all her decisions. Though she does not particularly want a son, she says she wishes for one just to quiet everyone’s condolences and sympathetic murmurs. In her community, a woman who does not bear male children is considered an anomaly, perhaps shunned.
We even get to know a bit about the director’s personality. She admits she wanted to include her mother in the film to learn more about the relationship between her parents, asking such questions as whether she ever dreams about him (no) and whether she has ever dreamt of another man (no).
Dreams are also a place for fantasy. But would these women, mostly from conservative neighborhoods, admit to having dreams of a sexual nature?
Asmaa admitted that she does but out of respect, Ramses chose not to include the details of her sexual dreams. Reda admitted that she’s had a “few dreams about sex with strangers.
Ramses’ own mother seemed not to know what an “embarrassing dream could contain. “Like what? she asks. Om Tareq similarly answers “aeb (shameful).
She would never have such dreams.
Ramses said the women’s candor was due to her close friendship with them, as well as the fact she was the only person present at the low-budget filming.
In time, the “women started to forget that there was a camera there.
Her peers and contemporaries at the premiere criticized some of the techniques Ramses employed, particularly the use of montages of the Nile, neighborhood scenes, and a film clip of Layla Mourad singing to her beau on the back of a motorcycle, abruptly or awkwardly juxtapositioned to the women’s testimonies.
Ramses responds by saying that “successful movies are those which break the rules.
The film has been viewed in various film festivals in Spain and Cuba, but not yet in Egypt. Responses at festivals were often “I didn’t know Egyptian women were like that.
And in case you were wondering about other dream symbolisms, wearing two shirts forebodes unhappiness, teeth represent children (so don’t lose them!), and seeing Christians in your dreams is considered good luck.