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Middle East International Film Festival: "Scheherazade Tell Me a Story" (Yousry Nasrallah, Egypt)

Yousry Nasrallah cleverly re-imagines the Arabian Nights for the age of post-modernism, exhaustive politics, and female rights in Scheherazade Tell Me a Story.  Utilizing conventions of soap operas and the flamboyant look but cunningly uncertain tone of Almodóvarian melodrama, Nasrallah and screenwriter Wahid Hamid fold three stories of female oppression into the meta-story of a highly polemic talk show hostess (Mona Zaki) being bullied by her husband's need to please the government in order to get a high level promotion.  Like the most famous delayed-ending story in literary history, Scheherazade Tell Me a Story subsumes and postpones the hostess's inner turmoil of ethics and love by dramatizing the supposedly apolitical stories of “real women” as the hostess tries to steer her television show away from the unwanted attention and general misery of political commentary.

Beautifully brought to life by Nasrallah's double belief in but sly exaggeration and tweaking of melodramatic forms, each short story and the film itself reveal in their allegorical dramas that no subject is without politics.  Beginning as tales of love, each of the three stories soon face a problem not of the romantic kind, but rather of the burden of female oppression in the Arab world.  Meanwhile, the baroque stylization of heroine's talk show, which features a video monitor behind the guest displaying a reverse shot of the host's face looming over them, foregrounds Scheherazade's superb and self-aware emphasis on a heightened sense of conventional televisual aesthetics of melodrama, soap opera, and talks shows through which the nascent politics of the real world can travel.

With just a dash of playful malice—or perhaps a sinister stylistic reminder—Nasrallah exposes the potentially pointed and poignant possibilities of nominally harmless, emotion-based, and female-oriented contemporary media for direct political purpose.  The politics are always there, and, with Scheherazade Tell Me a Story as a prime example, it only takes a deft, intelligent vision to look askance at ignored, unappreciated, and undermined ways of telling stories to bring their brutal insight to the world to life.

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