Travails and Trauma of a Mother Not-to-Be

in 8th Abu Dhabi Film Festival

by Subrahmanyan Viswanath

Motherhood is a natural progression for a woman. Whether she is a homemaker or holds a job, she needs a child in her arms to prove herself a complete person. Sans this most expected status, a woman faces family scorn and slight, and has to deal with social prejudices and stigma. Capturing these issues is this year’s Fipresci Award winner Um Ghayeb (Mother of the Unborn) by Nadine Salib.

Told through the first person account of a woman whose 12 years of persistent efforts to become a mother are rendered unfruitful, the film starkly brings to the fore the pains and pangs, angst and anxiety, dogmas and discrimination, women face when they fail to provide a child for the family.

Following Hannan, who lives in an isolated village in the distant South of Egypt, Salib documents the various social prejudices and pressures that Hannan faces in order to attain the unachievable, given that her small uterus is incapable of conception.

Shorn of sentimentality, but humane in its depiction of Hannan’s plight, Um Ghayeb is a testimony to what women undergo, especially in those parts of the world where becoming a mother is the primary function of a woman.

That Hannan, resigned to her fate, but still gives in to the various rites and rituals, myths and beliefs, that society and her people entail her to perform, speaks of what torturous lives women lead when motherhood eludes them.

Besides the social and universal theme it tackles, what made this documentary film a winner is that it found emotional resonance, and the subtlety and assuredness with which Salib deals with the thorny social issue. By vividly documenting Hannan’s plight, Salib has not only decried the expectations women face in society but also speaks of how women face a Sisyphean struggle to overcome all odds and live a life of their own.

Edited by Yael Shuv