- Golden Globe Awards
Souad follows the life of a 19-year-old teenager, Souad (portrayed by Bassant Ahmed), in Zagazig, a small city on the Nile Delta in Egypt.
She leads a double life as she remains conservative with her family but projects a completely different life on social media as she engages in several secret virtual relationships with men like Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem). She wants to be in the same class as Ahmed even though they are both from middle-class families, except Ahmed’s middle-class feels loftier because of his Alexandrian city environment.
Souad doesn’t feel any shame or guilt even when she has phone sex with Ahmed because she feels it didn’t actually happen. Her ambitions are slowly crushed by the invasion of her true reality.
A series of small incidents lead to a tragic event, which makes Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), her 13-year-old little sister, embark on a real-life journey looking for answers. Rabab later inherits the cell phone and continues the journey her sister was never brave enough to embark on; it also becomes her last physical connection to Souad.
In an HFPA press conference with writer-director Ayten Amin and producer Sameh Awad in December 2021 via Zoom, they talked about how the movie came about.
Amin, who has been working in the film industry for the past 12 years, explained, “I have been working on the film since 2015. It’s my second feature film. At the time, I had an idea and then I started working with my co-writer Mahmoud Ezzat, who is a poet, and has a lot of social media followers. We started working on the film based on the conversations that we had with his followers.”
New York-based Awad, who marked his production debut for Vivid Reels with this film, added that the production journey lasted six years.
Asked why this movie was very close to her heart, Amin answered, “I was nine years old when the sister of a friend of mine committed suicide and they lived right next to the school. The teachers asked us specifically not to talk about what happened. We grew up, graduated and we never talked about what happened to her sister. This was the initial idea of the script.
“I always thought, how did this sister grow up and how did she manage to cope when no one talked about this?
“Then I talked to Mahmoud, who has a lot of Twitter followers. He knew a lot about those types of girls. They had virtual relationships with famous people. We started writing the first draft based on these conversations.”
Amin pointed out that social media gave the girls this fake sense of freedom, giving them a virtual social life, but then they had to go back to their real lives. She stressed that this added anxiety, stress and depression to their lives.
The other stars featured in this drama include Hagar Mahmoud as Wessam, Sarah Shedid (Amira), Carol Ackad (Yara), Mona Elnamoury (the mother), Islam Shalaby (the father), and Nayira Al-Dahshoury (the aunt).
As for her casting decision, she narrated that she went to small cities and saw more than 250 girls to find her two leads. She said that she did not want actresses because she wanted girls who really lived it and could give input to the film.
“I really wanted someone who has this rich inner life that they can contribute to the film. This was how I found both girls.”
She recalled that when she auditioned Bassant Ahmed for Souad, she asked her to improvise the scene on the bus. Bassant did and Amin loved what she did “because her imagination was very wild.” As for Elghaiesh who plays Rabab, she was only 13 but “she was very bold.”
Amin revealed that the girls never read the script before shooting and they went through five months of intensive rehearsals. She just told them about the ideas of the scenes and both girls would improvise.
Amin would capture these improvisations on her mobile phone. Then she would go back to Cairo on the weekends to meet her co-writer and they would start rewriting the script based on these improvisations.
“It was a very organic process,” she said.