Mon. Aug 10th, 2020

Cannes Review: Gaya Jiji’s glacially paced tale of sexual repression ‘My Favorite Fabric’

Manal Issa in My Favorite Fabric from Gaya Jiji

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Gaya Jiji’s directorial debut MY FAVORITE FABRIC is an undercooked, lacking melodrama that takes points for being one of the rare Arab films not to shy away from nudity in service of a story about sexual repression and hidden desires.

Nahla (Manal Issa) lives with her sisters and mother in an apartment in Damascus. It is 2011 and the Syrian civil war is just starting. She works as a shopkeeper in a clothing store and spends her day smoking cigarettes in secret and fantasizing about her prince charming who never shows up. Things take an interesting turn when a mysterious woman moves into the building. Soon after, Nahla discovers she is using her apartment as an undercover brothel.

FABRIC feels like that sort of film that needed more time in the script stage as its ideas aren’t well rounded or fully developed. Jiji is clearly interested in exploring sexual repression perhaps as a metaphor for a country that’s repressed on so many levels. But the narrative approach doesn’t always work and the film suffers from several key issues.

One is the pacing. The film moves at a glacial pace and suffers from a lack of any exterior locations. It becomes too claustrophobic and doesn’t make great use of space other than showing the confines of Nahla’s life in a conservative, war-torn society. The script, moreover, is unable to give Nahla any additional dimension than being sexually starved, and overplaying her desires creates an unconvincing character whose motives aren’t always clear. In several exchanges, dream sequences and a later sexual encounter, the character makes repetitive demands that are never explained.

The film’s most interesting, and yet underwritten character, belongs to Madame Jiji (Ula Tabari), the feisty, brutally honest neighbor who shamelessly transforms her apartment into a brothel, recognizing the repressed desires plaguing a city that is not at peace with itself. Nahla remains an uninteresting character that brings down the film’s pace and slows down the intrigue while supporting characters are never given the chance to properly shine.

MY FAVORITE FABRIC doesn’t tell us much about the talent of Gaya Jiji, a rising Syrian filmmaker who may have just chosen the wrong material to showcase her storytelling chops. It remains to be seen whether Jiji can add something fresh to the Arab female filmmaking scene but we’ll keep an eye on her next project anyway.

Verdict: Uneven, at times tedious and unfocused, MY FAVORITE FABRIC is an underwhelming film that needed more time in development.

Grade: C

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