Abu Saddam and Arabic Masculinity's Mind

in 43rd Cairo International Film Festival

by Amal Elgamal

It is a unique challenge that in just 89 minutes, the film Abu Saddam (2021), directed by Nadine Khan, succeeds in putting its protagonist under different degrees of pressure to gradually reveal the toxic masculine mind which controls him and colors his behavior. It’s something that is common, not only in Egyptian society, but also in Arab countries.

Abu Saddam is a veteran truck driver, around 40, who stays with his assistant for just one night, during their journey on the North Coast Road, exploring his mindset as a man just returned to his career after some years.

He is still very proud of himself, and considers himself a King of the Road.

He’s been married twice: divorced the first wife, now quarrelling with the second (we never see her, just hear her voice). Instead of her, we will see her brother, who is well educated and dislikes her husband’s masculine mind. So the brother encourages his sister to leave Abu Saddam and gain her freedom. 

The character of Abu Saddam is multifaceted and has his own psychological intricacies. He looks like a kind person, respecting the road and refusing to throw rubbish on it. He is a very helpful man, and if he saw an accident on the road he would stop and lend a hand. He loves children and has a photo of a beautiful child in front of him, in the truck. At first glance, we imagine that it is his son, later we will detect that he can’t have children, because he is sterile.

On the other hand, he treats his wife in an aggressive, oppressive way; he even took her jewelry and sold it when he was unemployed. In addition, he speaks several times about his sexual abilities, but the truth is, he is sterile, doesn’t admit it, and refuses to have medical treatment while his wife wants to have children. 

The essential part of the intricacies of Abu Saddam—as the actor said—is “that he is a defeatist person, while he attempts to persuade himself in many ways that he is right and everyone else is wrong. He actually resembles the truck he is driving….” 

Abu Saddam, Nadine Khan’s second feature after Chaos & Disorder in 2012, is co- written by Mahmoud Ezzat. The dialogue between the characters is full of symbolic connotations. The subtext has many layers of metaphor, not because the film goes deep into the truck driver community, but because it explores where violence comes from and when it explodes in society. When these people realize that it’s hard to find their place in society, one of them—Ahmed Dash—will try to steal money from his boss. The other will become a stubborn person, thinking of nothing but revenge, spoiling everything, ruining his life, and smashing his car.

The most important scene is the one between Abu Saddam and a dancer—a prostitute—who behaves freely; she wants to enjoy her body like him, but she gets frustrated by his failure while he boasts of his sexual abilities, so she expresses her real feelings, shatters his dignity, and makes fun of his strong belief in his virility by saying: “You can do nothing in silence, it is necessary to babble out loud.” Then he gets angry, tries to sexually assault and rape her, this time in revenge for his wounded dignity, but she refuses and resists, saying: “I agreed to make love with you by my mood, now you can’t force me.”

It’s a road movie about repressed violence at its depth, about the feeling of humiliation, and about the desire to avenge for the sake of wounded dignity. This make us ask: Who initiates revenge? The strongest person is the one who takes revenge, who has the power and authority; between men and women, and because of the culture of masculinity, men will do their best to initiate revenge and oppress women, but not always.

Amal Elgamal
Edited by Robert Horton