Amr Salama's 'Asmaa' tackles AIDS-related stigmas

Menna Taher, Thursday 22 Dec 2011

New movie by Amr Salama sheds light on AIDS-related stigmas but convoluted plot detracts from film's important message


The inner world of the sick is so vast and filled with doubts, internal conflicts and questions regarding the purpose of living. The physical pain inflicted on the body, gives the suffering person a profound outlook on life.

One can clearly see that in many works including most of Bergman’s films, Amal Donkol’s poetry collection Awrak El Ghorfa 8 (The Writing of Room No. 8), Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) by Alejandro Amenábar, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and even Youssef Chahine’s Hadouta Masreya (An Egyptian Tale).

However, Amr Salama’s film Asmaa, which is based on a true story and revolves around a woman diagnosed with HIV, does not tap into that inner world of the inflicted; instead, it concentrates on the fight against society and its negative perception on the AIDS patients.

Though, drawing upon the effect of society is important as well, it seems that in Amr Salama’s film, the main struggle was confronting this world than anything else.

It is true that the disease has its negative connotations in Egypt, something that was emphasized on in the film. It is also true that health awareness is almost bereft in our society, according to some graphs in a 2008 WHO report, the number of virus carriers are increasing yearly.

However, making the central conflict the confrontation of the patient with the world, limits the film’s potential and even downgrades the severity of the disease itself.

The film, follows Asmaa, a woman from a poor neighborhood, who is diagnosed with HIV and hiding it from people around her and desperately needs to remove her gall bladder, yet is turned down by doctors in fear of getting infected.

Asmaa is then confronted by a choice; if she goes on air on a television show she would expose her story and get her right back.

It seems that something was out of place about inserting the media exposure in a story that could have been much more profound otherwise.

Though the media was not fully depicted as the savior in the story, in some way it was and seeing the state of the current media, one somewhat feels deceived.

Maged El Kedwany, similarly as his role in 678 as the police officer, played the good yet harsh television presenter, who in some way “was just doing his job” but hiding a soft side. Notably, El Kedwany has won the award for best actor for both films in the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF).  

Salama has also won the award for best Arab director in the New Horizons Competition in DIFF for the film, which despite its setbacks, had its good moments, and at times was delicately shot.

Salama’s camera managed to capture some interesting images and consistency was maintained throughout the film. In moments at the AIDS counseling sessions, the camera was shaky capturing close-up details in sepia-coloured tones, while in the nostalgic parts with her husbands colours were more accentuated vivid contrasting the more grayish colours of the scenes in the present.

However, the script of the film was thin and many characters and relationships were not fully developed, especially Asmaa’s relationship with her daughter.  The essence of the relationship was vague and the shifts in the relationship occurred so swiftly without taking the time for a more believable transformation.

After learning that her mother is HIV positive, she does not even take a second to register this info, instead she spouts out words of condemnation until minutes later she calls on the television show to say that her mother is one of the bravest women in the country. 

The dialogue itself was infused with many outright statements about the issues regarding HIV patients in Egypt and how society perceives the patients. As some statements are important, it seems that the line between a film and an awareness advertisement was crossed many times. It is not the role of film to raise awareness but to give profound perspective on life.

Short link: