A dystopian landscape, a curse, a dark family tradition, and mermaids: These are just a few of the foreboding elements that make up Shahad Ameen’s Saudi Arabian feminist fable “Scales,” which represented the country in the 2021 Best International Feature Academy Awards race. After making a splash at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, where it was honored with the Verona Award in the Critics’ Week section and dubbed the lineup’s most innovative film, the film is now reading for a stateside release.
Here’s the official synopsis: “‘Scales’ is a visually stunning feminist parable set in a dystopian landscape. It follows the story of a strong-willed young girl, Hayat, whose poor fishing village is governed by a dark tradition: every family must give one daughter to the mermaid-like sea creatures who inhabit the waters, to ensure the village can continue their fishing expeditions. When Hayat’s father refuses, the girl becomes a pariah, considered a curse by the village and urged to sacrifice herself — but Hayat has her own ideas about her destiny.”
Other festivals that “Scales” toured include London, Carthage, Cairo, Singapore (where it won Best Picture), as well as SXSW 2020. Ameen’s debut arrives as a welcome addition to Saudi cinema’s growing female-led cinematic canon.
Here’s an excerpt from a review of the film from the Venice Film Festival, as penned by The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Dalton: “Young Saudi writer-director Shahad Ameen makes an impressively stylish splash with her debut feature Scales, a timeless magical realist fable with a contemporary feminist message. Drawing on Arabic poetry and folklore, notably the ancient Syrian legend of the sea goddess Atargatis, Ameen expands her 2013 short ‘Eye & Mermaid’ into this subtly subversive critique of patriarchal power, a Saudi Arabia-Iraq-Emirates co-production which was shot in the Gulf state of Oman…As a monochrome fairy-tale fantasy with deep cultural roots in the Arab world, the film’s wider commercial prospects will be modest. But its high production values and universal gender-politics theme should ensure strong festival interest plus art house theatrical potential. “
“Scales” will open in theaters on July 9 at the IFC Center in New York and Laemmle’s Royal in Los Angeles. Exclusive to IndieWire, check out the dazzling black and white trailer below.
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