Tuk-tuk, the debut short by young director and screenwriter Mohamad Kheidr, represented Egypt at the latest Clermont-Ferrand Festival, which ended last February.
The film also took part in the Pan African Film Festival, which took place online between 28 February and 14 March 2021 in Los Angeles, USA.
Plunging into the daily life of a mother, Tuk-tuk pays tribute to all the Egyptian women struggling to provide for their families. This is the main guideline of this short film, the debut work by young director Mohamad Kheidr. At the same time, Tuk-tuk is a typical social film, touching on the lives of ordinary people.
Besides drawing a realistic portrait of its protagonists, the film also reveals a beautiful and very endearing character, confronted with various tensions caused by an oppressive society. It deals with the condition of women and the victims of their family and conjugal situations, some of whom find themselves obliged to provide for their families and even agree to go into debt to help them.
Abandoned by her husband, Walaa (Elham Wagdi), a 34-year-old mother, is precisely a woman who tries to survive, driving a tuk-tuk, a popular three-wheeled vehicle that can carry two or three people. This is how she earns her own bread and that of her whole family, faced by her husband's nonchalance and apathy.
The latter ended up opting for illegal immigration, which cost him his life. But, since misfortune never comes alone, Walaa soon finds herself plagued by various kinds of marginalisation and harassment from the tuk-tuk drivers, who see her as an intruder into their world. One of them will go as far as to want to completely destroy her life.
Based on a true story, the script is co-written by Sherif Abdel-Hadi and Mohamad Kheidr. It is a sharp yet indirect critique of male authority, which pushes women to fight against a patriarchal society.
The support of other women will give Walaa the courage to move on. However, she tries not to lose her feminine nature under the weight of the daily burdens.
Style in storytelling and filming
In Kheidr's film we do not find moralising, but rather a realism which comes from the complexity of reality filled with simplistic appearances and cliché judgments. The footage tries to capture the various hesitations, falls, antagonisms, ineptitudes and tactics within a family unit, but also within a world of marginalised people.
In Tuk-tuk, we meet a courageous woman who defends her life and that of her children, with determination, and who persists with hope. She engraves her place in our minds even after the end credits. With the ending remaining open, we wonder about her future, or rather the next crisis she will have to face.
The end of the film reveals that the number of mothers "in debt" in Egypt is increasing. Walaa is just one of those indebted to feed their families, and consequently gets imprisoned. She needs EGP 35,000 to pay for the tuk-tuk.
Focused on the theme of oppressed women, the film brings together small slices of life limited to a specific family unit, while it also sheds light on each character alone.
The director infuses a few humorous parentheses to play down the situation, the jokes shared by the mother and her children, or her brother, or said by a former tuk-tuk driver.
The film’s duration (26 minutes) does not allow the director-screenwriter to go in depth into the condition of the marginalised, especially women, in Egypt, though this was probably his intention.
Typical slips of the debut works
The film has problems typical to debut works. There are condensed ideas and themes, or rather what we can call "the thematic talker." Here, this translates into a homage to women, a criticism of patriarchy, illegal immigration, over-indebtedness of the poorest, etc.
For Elham Wagdi, a former Miss Egypt, this is her first appearance as an actress. She seems quite aristocratic for the character she portrays, yet she still tries to portray a believable member of the poorest in society.
Almost all of the other actors are well presented; they all excel at embodying their characters with a certain freshness.
Notwithstanding its few flaws, the filmmaker succeeded in breathing life into the story. This is perhaps the merit of a social drama, which is neither very original nor very sweet, but which believes in itself and in its characters.
In short, director Mohamad Kheidr offers us an exciting first short film, promising a career that is worth following.
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