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A woman with depression struggles to keep up appearances in front of her chirpy and driven office colleagues. An encounter with a dying cockroach in t...

Дата загрузки:2022-04-11T11:00:13+0000

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A woman with depression struggles to keep up appearances in front of her chirpy and driven office colleagues. An encounter with a dying cockroach in the office toilet develops into an absurd friendship, becoming the comforting companion she needs until she realizes its destructive effects on her life.

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Bint Werdan (J'ai le Cafard)
Directed by Maysaa Almumin

"Translated literally, “j’ai le cafard” means “I have the cockroach”. It is however a very well known French idiom, which even Google Translate is aware of, and means “I am depressed”. In her short film Bint Werdan (J’ai le Cafard), writer/director Maysaa Almumin uses it as a metaphor and captures her main character’s depression by having it materialized as – you guessed it! – a cockroach. By giving the medical illness a physical appearance, the protagonist’s journey towards mental health becomes more tangible, yet remains emotionally compelling.

While the use of the French locution alone could have been the starting point for her film, Almumin actually confesses that the idea for her story originated when she herself was experiencing depression. After finding a dying cockroach, she “didn’t have the heart to put it out of its misery” and realised that this was actually quite an effective allegory for people suffering from depression, who first have to recognise what’s wrong and then potentially have to do something about it.

Almumin penned a very clever and raw screenplay with Bint Werdan. The cockroach, aka depression, almost feels like the main character, while the woman, because of how passive she is, feels like a supporting role and the metaphor is explored in many clever yet subtle ways that echo her struggle. From refusing to kill it, to then having this giant insect following her around everywhere she goes, from the bed to the bath, it’s always there! As the story progresses we witness it hurt her wrist and takeover her apartment with a swarm of normal-sized cockroaches, the situation starts to become unbearable and she can’t ignore it any longer.

With its almost kafkaesque premise, the tone of the film was paramount in making it emotionally compelling. While the screenplay is subtle and allows the audience to perceive and interpret every frame individually, ultimately it’s hard to ignore that there’s a giant insect walking around. While some shots have hints of dark comedy, thanks to the atmosphere Albumin created around her character, and the performances, the metaphor always remains compelling and never loses its effectiveness. The cockroach, that the director created with her own bare hands, is visually quite impressive and for someone who (I assume like most) is not a fan of the species, despite its obvious look and the foley that was added to it, it was never distracting from the narrative or tonally out of place.

The woman, who remains nameless – which again is another way of capturing how passive she is in her own story – is the anchor of the film, as it is her journey to understanding her mental health that the film depicts and Enas El Fallal’s performance is nothing short of stellar. With not even one line of dialogue, she takes us through the motions of her character’s life, consistently embodying this feeling of disconnect. Navigating the weary repetitiveness of life, while also portraying the front her character puts up, she depicts her emotions with raw authenticity. Even when her scene partner becomes the roach puppet, her portrayal remains genuine as she sensitively brings to the screen the slow realization that she might have a mental health problem.

Named as one of Screen International’s Arab Stars Of Tomorrow 2021, Almumin recently completed a new short film, titled …And I Was Left Behind, which was created under the mentorship of Cambodian director Rithy Panh. She is currently working on on a new short film, which is set in Finland and centers around two old ladies who have to put their suspicions aside to get out of an unfortunate incident, while also developing a feature film about: “A single forty-something Kuwaiti woman who explores what it means to live life on her own terms, after the passing of her mother”. - S/W Curator Céline Roustan

Reproduced on this channel with the permission of the filmmakers.
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