Gaya Jiji’s ‘My Favourite Fabric’, on MUBI, is about a young Syrian woman who’s fighting her own war

Posted on October 10, 2020


The film is inspired by Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour. A young woman’s sexuality becomes a metaphor for a country’s desire to break free from oppressive constraints.

It begins with a young woman in a cab, one of those van- or minibus-like vehicles used by many passengers at the same time. The vehicle stops at one point. The young woman gazes up at a man by a window. He switches off the lights. He draws a curtain, with no evidence that he is aware he’s being stared at. Inside the vehicle, a middle-aged mother with a child asks the young woman to close the window by her side, because the baby is cold. The young woman says no. Is she always sullen, or has the sight of the man upset her? The mother asks again. The girl turns and snaps. “Why don’t you cover her up? It’s only March.”

The month may not mean much, but when you add the year to it, you know what’s happening. It’s 2011: the start of the civil war in Syria. The young woman is Nahla (Manal Issa). She has two sisters. After the scene in the vehicle, we shift to Nahla’s home, where the family has decided to marry her off to a US-based Syrian named Samir. “Why can’t he find a girl in the US?” Nahla’s youngest sister asks. Their mother replies, “Because he wants a girl from home.” Syrian expats, apparently, are a lot like Indians. Nayla’s second sister says now they can all go and live in the US. That’s when we see things are not normal here. They wish to flee, and Nahla’s arranged marriage is the ticket.

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