The debut feature by Jordanian filmmaker Zaid Abu Hamdan, Daughters of Abdulrahman, is an outcry against the concept of shame in a patriarchal society and the way it is used to exploit, repress and shun women.
It tells the story of four estranged sisters, who come together despite their personal differences in an attempt to locate their father, all while trying to keep his mysterious disappearance a secret from prying, judgmental neighbours.
The movie marked its world premiere at the 2021 Cairo International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. It was also featured in the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival. However, its screening at the Amman International Film Festival on Sunday, which was met with a thunderous ovation, had a special resonance, Abu Hamdan said.
“I did this film because of my love for my mother and my aunts,” he said, during a discussion after the movie's Jordanian premiere.
“I am a man in this society. I have less pressures, less limitations and I was still feeling smothered. I began writing the film after a conversation I had with my mother, and after conversations I had with women in Jordan about the reasons for their frustrations. I saw that a lot of women wanted to shout out, and I also wanted to shout out.”
This defiant and empowering scream propels the story. It begins as a stifled rumble, steadily building up throughout before bellowing out — literally in its cathartic, conclusive moments.
“We did this film because we love Jordan,” Abu Hamdan said. “And we criticise that which we love.”
The sisters, who lead wildly varying lifestyles and embody different aspects of Middle Eastern society, are portrayed by a stellar cast of Arab actresses.
Saba Mubarak takes on the role of Amaal, a deeply religious mother of four who stoically endures her husband’s bellicose nature. Hanan Hillo depicts the strong-willed and expressive Samah, who has her own marital problems to reckon with.
Mariam Basha portrays the independent Khitam, who has been shunned by her family for her liberal lifestyle. Farah Bseiso, meanwhile, plays Zainab, a seamstress who has taken on the thankless responsibility of caring for their father, in a role that marks the acclaimed television star’s comeback to the big screen.
The discordant lifestyles of the four sisters often result in unexpected comedic moments within the story, but as secrets and scandals begin to surface, it forces them to confront the societal pressures that have fractured their relationships and caused them to fall out of touch.
“I was stunned by the script when I first read it, enchanted by these four women,” Mubarak, who is also one of the executive producers of Daughters of Abdulrahman, said.
“Each of them is different from the other. They each have their own crisis and their own grief. By the end of the film, they are all victorious in one way or another, whether through finding truth or a voice, or through continuing on a life path that they chose for themselves without fear of being judged.
“The film has toured the world,” Mubarak said. “But the screening in Jordan is different. It was an emotional film, and it was done through our voices, feelings and from right here. We’ve long been waiting for this day, for this screening.”
Daughters of Abdulrahman received grants from the Doha Film Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and the Jordan Film Fund that was offered by The Royal Film Commission — Jordan, without which Mubarak said the movie would have never been made.
Bseiso also said that she had long been waiting for it to premiere in Jordan, but with some uneasiness.
“The most beautiful thing about the screening is that the film is being shown on its land and for its people,” she said.
“But honestly, we weren’t sure how it was going to be received. We were afraid of some harsh reactions. The responses of the audience today made all the effort and hard work worth it. This reaction is a prize more valuable and touching than any award we can receive.”
However, Bseiso said Daughters of Abdulrahman's lasting charm is in its universal story, resonating far beyond the hilly alleys of Amman’s Ashrafiyah neighborhood, where most of it is set. It also shows how a patriarchal society can be enforced by women and men alike.
“These things happen in Jordan, in Egypt, in Syria, Palestine and [in] all segments of society,” she said. “I hope the film helps us accept the other and avoid harsh judgments. Even the sisters, at the beginning of the film, were judging one another.
"Putting labels on each and judging the way we dress or live our lives is destructive. When we accept the other with all the differences, the world becomes a much more beautiful place. There will be love, peace and respect. When the sisters loved and accepted one another, they were a force that was indomitable.”