A hair salon provides the backdrop for Sarra El Abed’s political, female-centred short film
Aesthetically inspired by French New Wave cinema, the film uses warm visuals and everyday conversations to tell a prescient story.
- 11 August 2022
- Olivia Hingley
Since she was a young girl, filmmaker Sarra El Abed wanted to tell the story of the women that surrounded her. While she was always aware of this goal, just how and what her account would centre on long remained a mystery. It was when the Tunisian revolution occurred in 2010 that Sarra found herself becoming more interested in exploring her birth country, having left for Montreal at the age of nine. Before long, two disparate storylines emerged for Sarra, one that focussed on the revolution and the ensuing political state, and one that followed characters in a women’s hair salon – some of the most “memorable souvenirs” from her childhood. But, the problem Sarra faced was that both storylines felt somewhat incomplete. “Then at some point,” Sarra continues, “it was just logical to merge both ideas.” After numerous conversations and the trust and dedication of her producer Isabelle Gringon-Franke, her latest project was borne.
Ain’t No Time for Women takes place on the evening of the first round of Tunisia’s presidential elections in 2019, the second election since the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. As the film’s opening credits explain, “a rise in religious conservatism sparked by the arrival of the Islamic party Ennahda has revived the fighting spirit of Tunisian women”. Importantly, in the film the election is an “accessory” to tell the story of feminism in Tunisia. Taking place right in the midst of the bustling salon, it opens with overlaid voices that are interjecting, laughing and jesting. By zooming in on specific conversations, the film expertly shows how intertwined the personal and the political are. One woman asks her hairdresser if she can see any more grey’s in her hair, quickly followed by a question of who she’s going to be voting for. Moments of humanity and humour also shine through, like in one scene of a young girl who’s just got her hair done. She's shown running from the shop in the rain, a plastic bag protecting her fresh cut.
Unlike many of the stories we come across here at It’s Nice That, Sarra’s love of film didn’t begin in childhood. “I was never a cinephile and never pictured myself being a film director,” she admits. “I only enjoyed gangster flicks that I would watch passionately in my teens.” But, Sarra was always invested in the arts, doing theatre for 10 years, dance classes, studying art history and loving to write – she even had a stint as a stand up comedian. It was only in one of Sarra’s film history classes that her passion truly began, a fact that she jokingly says has made her a “living cliché”. It was encountering the French New Wave movement that kickstarted her love of the arts, closely followed by the legendary Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. After immersing herself in the work of the arthouse greats, Sarra says she instinctively knew she had to make films, enrolling herself in a film production degree and working in cinema since.
Fittingly, it was one of French New Waves greatest pioneers, Agnes Varda, that aesthetically inspired Ain’t No Time for a Woman. Obsessed with colours “to the point that it always gets too much”, Sarra took cues from the hues of Varda’s later colour films. Influenced by the opening of the film, Sarra wanted to recreate the “vintage” feel of movies from the 60s and 70s. Giving the film a beautiful, cinematic quality, the grainy effect exudes an intimate, welcoming feel, inviting the viewers into its warm interior. “I like the fact that, just because of the way it’s shot, some people think it’s fiction,” Sarra says.
Reflecting on the project and its overwhelming positive reception, Sarra underlines how her main intention was to deconstruct certain stereotypes about Arab women, something she is hopeful to have achieved. “I think we are in an era where hope is a feeling that is getting a hard time,” she concludes, “these women show so much resilience, hope and joy that I wanted to communicate their strength.”
GallerySarra El Abed: Ain't No Time for a Woman (Copyright © Sarra El Abed, 2022)
Sarra El Abed: Ain't No Time for a Woman (Copyright © Sarra El Abed, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.