Daughters of Abdul-Rahman rebels against the reality of Arab women
September 24, 2022
Watching an Arabic film that attempts to tackle numerous feminist issues all at once can often result in a fragmented treatment, as the plot becomes congested with events. However, Daughters of Abdul-Rahman offers a different experience. In this film, the issues seamlessly intertwine, much like a fabric skillfully woven by an artisan, creating a magnificent and harmonious tapestry of colors.
Four sisters, four contradictory lives
The story revolves around four sisters, each representing a different facet of women’s lives in the middle class. Despite finding themselves confined to certain molds, they fiercely cling to and defend their positions, even when not entirely by choice.
Amaal, the eldest sister who wears a veil, embodies the traditional image of a religious woman in Arab society. She married a violent man at a young age and instead of rebelling against her circumstances, she wholeheartedly assimilates into her role, adhering to the rules dictated by her husband. Though she is forced to sell food to support herself and her children, her work does not diminish her husband’s authority, which governs the family and turns her daily life into a living hell.
Zainab, the unmarried girl labeled as a “spinster,” finds herself compelled to serve her father and forsake her own dreams. She dons the garment of an obedient woman, seeking the approval of her family and neighbors to avoid criticism and scrutiny. She suffers emotional deprivation and oppression from her surroundings, which dismiss her significant sacrifices.
Samah, the eloquent woman married to a wealthy man, revolves her life around him and his emotional escapades. She represents a class of unfortunate women who settle for having a provider and sacrifice their own happiness in order to maintain a socially desirable image and luxurious lifestyle.
And then there is Khitam, whose name carries great significance. It is a common practice for parents to name their last-born daughter Khitam (meaning “Finale” in Arabic) after having several girls, symbolizing that she is the final daughter, as if the family has had enough of having only girls. Khitam chooses to break free from her family’s traditions and travels to Dubai to live with a man, disregarding the institution of marriage, which brings shame upon her family in the eyes of their relatives and neighbors.
The four sisters, who have been estranged by their different lifestyles and beliefs, find themselves compelled to reunite under one roof due to the sudden disappearance of their father, Abdul-Rahman. Afflicted by age-related complications and dementia, his absence serves as the catalyst for their reunion. As they come together, their differences become evident in their daily routines and habits. A simple act like smoking a cigarette while driving is enough to ignite a war, especially for Amaal, the devoutly religious sister, who we later discover to be a secret smoker herself.
Amaal’s internal struggle with this contradiction is a central theme that the film aims to depict. It highlights the pervasive duplicity within society, where individuals pretend to be ideal and wear masks that bear little resemblance to their true selves. They openly scold those who err, while the stench of hypocrisy emanates from their own hidden secrets. In this society, everyone scrutinizes one another, yet fails to reflect upon their own lives.
The moment of truth
The pivotal moment arrives when Amaal confesses her husband’s intention to arrange a marriage for their underage daughter. This revelation sets aside the sisters’ differences as they unite in a mission to rescue the girl from a life-destroying union. This unforeseen adventure brings them together under one roof, pitting them against a common enemy. New relationships blossom, rooted in universal human dimensions, far removed from the confines of beliefs, customs, and traditions.
The film sheds light on various feminist issues with remarkable fluidity. It links violence against women to the practice of child marriages, superficial displays of religiosity, societal duplicity, and gender inequality. Daughters of Abdul-Rahman fearlessly confronts these issues in a manner unprecedented in the Jordanian film industry.
Starring Saba Mubarak, Farah Bsieso, Hanan Hillo, and Mariam Basha, and directed by Zaid Abu Hamdan, the film has garnered international acclaim, earning prestigious awards and securing commercial screenings in cinemas following its successful run at film festivals.