Factory Girl: Defying the social order

Randa Ali , Thursday 20 Mar 2014

The heartwarming new film Factory Girl, dedicated to the late Souad Hosny, hit cinemas this week. The movie looks into the struggles of the working class amid often bitter Egyptian realities

Factory Girl
Still shot from Mohamed Khan's Factory Girl

After 23 films and an almost seven-year hiatus, Mohamed Khan is back with the joyful and painful Factory Girl, which came out in cinemas Wednesday, 19 March.

Factory Girl, the third collaboration between Khan and scriptwriter Wissam Soliman, deals with interweaving themes and triggers paradoxical emotions; it is about the “rosy” dreams that make life possible, but that are also often crushed by a classist, patriarchal and judgmental society.

As if choosing not to break the habit, once again Khan puts women in the centre of his movie. Khan's women often expect more from life and turn their backs — even unconsciously — on pre-established roles that society expects them to play.

Factory Girl is the story of 21-year-old Hayam (played by still not well known Yasmeen El-Raees) who works at a textile factory.

The factory employs dozens of young girls. All of them, including the film’s protagonist, share one dream: to find prince charming that they hope will rescue them from hours of sewing at an underpaid job.

From the very beginning of the movie, the viewer follows the heart of the subtly alluring Hayam who falls in love with the factory’s new technical supervisor, Salah, played by musician and actor Hany Adel.

Salah is admired by the playful young girls for his physique, colourful eyes and the mere fact of being a man in a workplace otherwise dominated by women.

While everyone calls him "Engineer Salah," the young man (perhaps in his late 20s) also has a dream: of becoming a mechanical engineer. His dream was shattered when he missed 19 marks in his high school exam — a tough reality that many Egyptian students experience.

The relationship between Hayam, the poor but very productive girl in her community, and Salah, the single man who comes from an economically privileged background, is the nucleus of Factory Girl. All events are generated by or revolve around this relationship.

Yet despite the fact that the movie touches on a cliché theme, presenting a romantic story about love that hopes to overcome social gaps, Khan's movie explores much deeper values. Factory Girl is an intimate look into the lives of the working class and its intertwining relationships, filling the movie with warmth and a humane aspect. The characters presented are very real, deeply instilled in Egyptian life filled with economic and societal challenges, topped with educational obstacles. As such the movie captures the complex nature of Egypt's daily realities that shape lives of so many.

The film is dedicated to Egypt’s most beloved actress, Souad Hosny, who passed away in 2001. Hosny’s presence in the film provokes nostalgia and a sense of the protagonist's longing for times when romance seemed to be more abundant. Hosny's voice accompanies Hayam during her ups and downs throughout the film.

"Souad Hosny remains in the soul of each Egyptian and Arab girl ... I wanted people to remember her through Factory Girl. I owe it to her," Khan said during an interview with private-owned CBC TV channel days before the release of the film.

Khan’s Factory Girl is yet another captivating work by this accomplished director and a great beginning for the new cinematic year 2014.

The film already won two awards at the Dubai International Film Festival last December: the Muhr Arab Feature Best Actress Award, handed out to the well-deserving Yasmeen El-Raees, as well as the coveted FEPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Best Arab Feature award.

71-year old Mohamed Khan is one of Egypt’s most prominent directors belonging to a generation of neo-realist filmmakers that represented a hallmark in Egyptian cinema. Three of his films — El-Harreef (The Street Player, 1984), Zawgat Ragol Mohem (The Wife of an Important Man, 1987) and Ahlam Hind wa Camilia (Dreams of Hind and Camilia, 1988) — were named among the "100 Greatest Arab Films" by the Dubai International Film Festival.

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