When I first approached Asmaa, I did so with apprehension, to say the least. I mean, c’mon. How often do we as Egyptians confront the taboos of our society healthily and unreservedly? And this was a movie about AIDS, no less.
But I was pleasantly surprised. The movie, starring Hend Sabry and directed by Amr Salama, is not only one of the best told stories I’ve watched in a while, but it is also accurate and unbiased. It revolves around HIV-positive Asmaa (Sabry), an Egyptian woman who is refused surgery time after time due to her condition. Later, when a talk show host offers to publicize her story, she must decide whether to take back her justice and undergo the surgery, or to live whatever life she has without the conflict of a prejudiced society.
The movie gives life to Asmaa beyond AIDS though. The flashbacks of her earlier rebellious days and the smaller conflicts she faces regardless of the disease — such as her rocky relationship with her daughter Habiba — give her character beyond just a label. We sympathize with her for more reasons than an unfortunate twist of fate.
The flashbacks, dialogue, music, and (perhaps most importantly) acting are all handled perfectly. I’m not a huge fan of the Egyptian film industry, but I was impressed. The movie told the story beautifully, but simply. Sure, it felt slightly pedantic at times, but it never deviated from Asmaa’s story to preach a bigger picture. There was just no need.
The smaller details and subplots of the movie added to it as well, rather than dampened its effect. The support group, with their own problems and perspectives, and the doctors who constantly asked, “But how did you become HIV-positive in the first place?” really make an excellent human rights movie out of one fictional story about one downtrodden woman in the hustle and bustle of Cairo.
And that’s why I chose to review this movie. Sure, many won’t like it as I did. Many will be too lazy to watch a movie without comedy or nudity or action. But while new AIDS infections are slowly decreasing around the globe, rates are rising in Egypt and the Middle East region. It’s a problem we can’t leave un-addressed, and we sure as anything can’t turn the other way. And how better to address a social and public health issue than by media and informed discussion?