Review: The Story of Noon
The Egyptian Revolution in 2011 was so highly documented by demonstrators that the line between art and political activism felt arbitrary. From phone-shot clips to short films such as ‘The Egyptian Revolution’ by Abdullah Sharkas, the camera has been used as a building tool, as when events in life are documented from a certain starting point, it is done so with the anticipation of progression, developing as the camera rolls. The widespread use of cameras in a revolution is a way of saying, ‘This is where we are now, this is just the beginning – look at where we will be.’
Yet halfway through ‘The Egyptian Revolution’ by Sharkas, trapped amidst the thick swathe of demonstrators, the cars at the edge of the frame are usually unmoving, and the people within them are unknown. The Story of Noon, a short documentary by the Egyptian filmmaker, director of photography and actor, Laila Samy, is about the people in these cars, their faces concealed from the canon of widespread, communally desired change. It is about the concealed faces of women who, whatever the political climate, will always carry their womanhood and the cultural implications of that womanhood wherever they go.
The film provides an intimate look into the life of Laila’s friend Noon, and other ‘sluts’ working in a hair and beauty salon, to women working to feed their children behind market stalls. It feels journalistic, as Laila carries the hand-held lens that distances herself from the same salon to which she has gone to for 10 years. She films its services, carried out in a space so sacred and integral to women’s culture, that the questioning of its legitimacy by the alienating effect of the camera seems to increase that distance. The plucking, waxing, bleaching and the buffing of dead skin from nails is part of the metamorphic shape-shifting aspect of being a woman, especially in Middle Eastern/Egyptian societies, where a woman’s body and words can acceptably be scrutinised by onlookers in the busy streets. Enclosed away from these streets in the salon however, communities of women are formed by the acknowledgement and acceptance of the imperfection of the body and the mind: such as a wish to throw away all societal responsibilities for a moment.
The documentary essentially begins with a narrative purpose: to document the story of Noon as she lets us into her life by narration. Laila uses her limited resources to complement her story; a chipped china pot filled with sugar, sour lemons. Women’s eyes are only in the frame to show their eyebrows being waxed. The documentary is told by the inhibitions placed upon the documentary making process. She just films her friends’ hands; hands of women who work hard to get themselves, their husbands and their children by.
But remember, the camera is a tool. In this short film, it is a creative tool that carries with it a sense of uneasiness. Noon and the other salon workers feel – and are made to feel by their partners, or the moral conscience of their partners – as if they are committing something similar to treason, quickly furthering the distance of Laila behind the camera. The shunning of curiosity leads to the embarrassment of becoming an outsider. Laila focuses on her own face at times, holding her Canon camera in the self-reflective surface of the mirror of the salon where she gets thrown out, and in the rear-view mirrors of cars as men and women with books and babies walk by.
Documenting the everyday life and everyday norms of her Egyptian homeland turns her into a one woman show. The salon manager yells, ‘Your story doesn’t concern me! What kind of a person films women waxing?’ Humanising women and their pain on an everyday level was not an answer that Laila gave, or indeed, one which the salon manager would have accepted. The camera, when looking out amongst women and men from within the car before the acknowledgement of the camera by men, is enough to close the shutters for good, and therefore it cannot capture the same type of unsolicited personal passions and beliefs as in the The Last Days of The City, in which Laila stars, a feature docufiction that uses the actual Revolution for cinematic purposes.
It is a threat, because it asks a question of patriarchal society and culture, especially when the camera is held by a woman. The question is whether patriarchy is naturally fixed, or whether we will progress and change from here? Though the film is acceptable enough for strangers and those close to her in the community to place themselves in the women’s shoes and to capture a starting point of a change in attitudes, this acceptability is uncertain.
Amidst the stories and shots of women working in the Egyptian heat however, we see that no matter what the political climate, women tend to always deal with their environment with a strength that arises out of their acceptance. Noon’s quote from a popular Egyptian song, ‘I live amongst you and accept my suffering’, could be all she needed in her home video attempt for truth.