Kindil El Bahr begins with a scene of a man in a car with his children, impatiently waiting for someone else to get out of the house. A few minutes later, a young woman in a long flowing dress gets out from the house running, and she opens the back car door to see if it is well shut, and in the process she closes the door on her daughter’s little finger. At once, the daughter starts crying and the couple’s older son accuses his mom of hurting his little sister deliberately. The young wife soothes her daughter while apologizing to her husband and her son and assures them that it was an accident. A while later, the young wife’s mother enters the car, and at last the family takes off. In the car, the son says he wants to have ice cream. The young wife says that he can’t have ice cream. The man says that they should buy ice cream for the kids as a way of apologizing to their daughter. The young wife says she also wants ice cream, and the family shares a laugh. When the man drops his family to the beach, the young wife remains in the car and throws a tantrum asking the man to give her a kiss. She refuses to leave the car, and lies in his lap. Relenting, the man gives her a small peck on the lips. The young wife makes him promise that he will come early at home, and he agrees. As the man drives away, he smiles to himself while shaking  his head. All these events are establishing that the young wife is also like a child. She is so clumsy that the man does not trust her alone with the children, thus bringing the mother-in-law to help out with the children. The son blaming his mother for hurting his sister deliberately also suggests that these accidents are so frequent that they don’t seem like accidents anymore. Could Damien Onouri( the director), be suggesting the effects of early marriages? Children and husbands blaming mothers for irresponsibility, yet the mothers are yet to mature?

At the beach, the children are playing and the young wife and the grandmother are watching them. By now, we know the name of the young wife. The grandmother calls her Nfissa. It is obvious that the grandmother is the one keeping an eye on the children. Nfissa, is staring at the sea, and she gets a flashback of her and her husband swimming competitively, laughing without a care in the world. It makes me wonder if it was before Nfissa had big responsibilities—children. Suddenly, Nfissa lets her hair down from its elaborate bun and begins walking towards the sea. A few minutes later, she is swimming. Nfissa is a strong swimmer who is not self-conscious. Her flowing summer dress gets tight because of the water, but that does not stop her from swimming acrobatically. As Nfissa swims further away from the shore, she gets more flashbacks with her husband in the sea. I don’t notice when she gets pushed by a hairy hand in the sea. It seems so sudden. The man starts to apologize to Nfissa, but Nfissa dismisses him saying that it was intentional. Just like the hairy hand in the sea came out of the blue, so does the group of young men that surround Nfissa. They start grabbing her around the breasts, accusing her of swimming sensually to “catch their attention.” Nfissa, pushes one man in the face, and all hell breaks loose. The man grabs her by the hair, and says “that even his parents never laid a hand on him, but a bitch just did”. His language demonstrates that the problem is not that Nfissa laid a hand on him. The problem is that a “woman” laid a hand on him. The group of men starts throwing Nfissa to one another like one would a basketball. Nfissa starts crying that she has children, but the men continue to toss her around. After a while, Nfissa starts calling for her mother. Then, the men lay their hands collectively on her head and push her deeper in the water. The scene is probably 8 minutes, but it feels like a nightmare- longer. The fact that Nfissa is a young mother who was also growing makes her death harder to watch

It is dark at the beach now. There is the police, and the man from the car. We now know his name: Sameer. He yells “Nfissa” a dozen times. He yells at the police for not doing enough. The police officer says that they can’t send help that day , since the waves are strong and dangerous. The police officer also subtly suggests that Nfissa disappeared on her own accord. Sameer yells his wife’s name a few more times, and then he suddenly realizes that he might be scaring his children. Sameer takes his children home, and tucks them into bed. While he is sitting outside, his mother in law comes to sit with him. As she sits, Sameer wonders out loud how a mother could be irresponsible as to stay in the sea while she has a family. The mother in law defends her daughter arguing that Nfissa is incapable of leaving her family on purpose. Sameer says that he will slap Nfissa when she comes back, and this re-emphasizes the relationship he  shares with Nfissa: a husband- wife relationship, and parent-child relationship.

The following day, Sameer takes his children and mother in law at the beach. He stays there, while the police sends submarine divers to look for Nfissa. Deep down in the sea, we see Nfissa waking up from what looks like a long slumber. Her swimming is different. It is much more elegant. More fish like. As Nfissa  swims closer to the water surface, her daughter who is standing at the shore  starts calling out: “mother.” The daughter calls out for her mother some more, and as she calls, Nfissa gets closer to where other people are swimming, including 6 of the guys who drowned her. Sameer, suddenly yells for his mother in law to get the children out of the water, and when the mother in law  is done, Nfissa lets out a blood-chilling scream. We see her face for the first time: it is white, with red veins, and the whites of her eyes are a blood red while her human dark eyes are blue. She is a monster. Nfissa’s scream freezes the sea over, and everyone who is in the water dies immediately. The beach is filled with screams of people mourning for their loved ones, and Nfissa swims further away from the shore, where a young couple is in a motorboat. The young man in the boat is one of the guys that drowned Nfissa. The young man sees a beauty in the sea, and starts calling her to join them in their motor boat. When Nfissa doesn’t respond, the young man takes it for disrespect, and jumps in the water to forcibly take her in the motorboat. Nfissa, gets her opportunity and then drowns the man.

Sameer and his family are in trouble. The police is accusing them of harboring a sea creature. The police officer is arguing that “jellyfish women do not become jellyfish women, unless they want to.” This is a clear metaphor for “girls being blamed for being sexually assaulted.” The police officer forces Sameer and his family to leave the neighbourhood, and threatens to press charges against Sameer for being the sea creature’s accomplice. The police officer also forces Sameer to cooperate in the capture of the sea creature, if he wants his children to have a father. Sameer arranges for his children and mother in law to leave town, while he helps the police find Nfissa. Sameer goes to the beach and stands visibly waiting for his wife. Nfissa who is in the ocean feeding on an octopus, senses her husband. She swims as fast as she can towards Sameer. As Nfissa swims she gets the same flashbacks with her husband. This time, the flashbacks are more intimate. Does this explain why Nfissa was strongly attracted to the sea? Was it  because she was closer to her husband in the sea than she was at home? As she gets closer to the shore, Sameer starts yelling at her to go back, but the police  traps her in a net. They shoot Nfissa with spears, while Sameer is being held by multiple policemen from going to his wife. The body of the sea creature is put in the city center, for everyone to see. There is also a broadcasting corporation covering the capture of the sea creature. As the journalist asks the bystanders their views, these answers are the most frequent: “ she deserved it”; “her family should also shoulder the blame”; “ no more jellyfish women in our society”. Like the police officers, the crowd does not see/ignores the injustice. No one even bothers to investigate the cause of her death, because Nfissa presumably asked for her “fate”.

As the credits roll, I sit in my chair for a long time. I can’t remember the last time a film had such a huge impact on me. Damien Onouri’s use of myths, metaphors, and horror to communicate the horrors and daily injustices women face is simply genius. I also can’t appreciate enough Damien’s use of stunning visuals to  give context to the whole narrative, to remind us that these injustices are as real now as they have been in the past. Kindil El Bahr is a 40 minute visual representation of Khaled Hosseini’s quote in his book  A Thousand Splendid Suns : “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.” Movies like KIND EL BAHR make me appreciate even more, movements like #metoo that aim to bring justice to women: especially victims of sexual assault. I highly recommend watching this film in support of these movements.

Film Details

  • Director: Damien Ounouri
  • Runtime: 41min
  • Genre: Short, Drama

Portia Uwase Zuba’s academic interests are Economics, International Affairs, and French.