After studying literature at Cairo University, Dunia, 23 years old, wants to become a professional dancer. She attends audition for an oriental dance contest where she recites Arabian ...
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After studying literature at Cairo University, Dunia, 23 years old, wants to become a professional dancer. She attends audition for an oriental dance contest where she recites Arabian poetry without any body movement. She explain to the perplexed jury that a woman can't move her body or evoke act of love when society ask women to hide their femininity. She is selected and meet Beshir, an intellectual and activist who will supervise her thesis on ecstasy in Sufi love poetry. Their attraction is mutual. This could be liberation for Dunia but the constraints on women in Egyptian society goes deeper than she suspects. Written by
The film, "Dunia," brought back memories for me of the American 1970's, when feminism was on the rise, the first edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," came out, belly dancing became popular, and one of the records that circulated among the incipient belly-dancing community was entitled "How to Make Your Husband a Sultan." Amidst our own "consciousness-raising" at that time, there was very little awareness of real women's lives in Middle-Eastern communities. Today, there is far more reporting on the strictures imposed on women under "Sharia law," but still little comprehension of the lives of young women who dress like westerners, live in big cities, and are exposed to, and caught between, the contemporary secular and the traditional Islamic value systems.
This film, made in 2005 by a Lebanese-French director who owes her renown to the world of documentary filmmaking, apparently underwent a tortuous path to its public showing. The fictional heroine, Dunia, embodies the contradictions of her society. We meet her at an audition for dancers who wish to represent Egypt in an International Belly Dancing Contest. We do not see much of her dancing before the judges at her audition, but hear their interview of her. When asked to SHOW more of emotions about the Arabic poetry she wishes to study in her voice and body, Dunia slips to the floor, wrapping her arms and clothing closely around her. The young woman articulates the contradictions with which she lives: the daughter of a famous dancer, she has never seen her own naked body -- the only naked female bodies she has seen have been in foreign movies, which she watches through her window on her neighbor's television in an apartment next door. (I had heard long ago, that Egyptian belly dancers must cover their mid-section. Therefore the very image we have of belly-dancing is challenged).
Dunia, as well as the young man who is enamored of her, are voyeurs rather than participants in the realm of the erotic. SHE observes other, less inhibited older and younger women; HE stalks her at her dance classes, ascending to the roof to look down at her undulating body. When he braves general opprobrium to come visit her alone in her apartment, attempts to kiss her, and strips off his own shirt in an attempt to arouse her, she rebuffs his advances. She asks if he would marry a non-virgin, even if it was he who had been her only lover. She prefers not to put his protestations of liberalism to the test. Of course, her own concession to tradition (she marries him), do not protect her from ingrained expectations of male dominance and female submission.
Dunia is fascinated by her academic adviser, a specialist on the stories Scheherezade spins in the classic "1001 Arabian nights," whose public protestations against censorship of literature incur the wrath of the public and cause a protester to blind him (significantly, the "seer" of the erotic in poetry is blinded). On the other hand, she watches in horror as the grandmother of a friend's pubescent daughter relentlessly pursues the opportunity to make "a lady" out of the girl by performing female circumcision on her.
Thus the complex layers of this film make it worthy of close attention -- viewing and re- viewing. It is a "bildungsroman" of a young Egyptian woman. Dunia claims to have grown up in Luxor, which was the ancient capital of Thebes. Her young adult trials take place in contemporary Cairo. Thus she embodies the entire history of Egypt, and her final epiphany is accompanied by her professor's admonition, "Never wear another person's clothes. Dunia, you are the world."
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