For the Love of Film (Noir) - A Nightingale's Prayer
[This post is part of the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon, hosted by The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films. The blogathon, running from 14th-21st February aims to to raise funds for the Film Noir Foundation who do important work to restore and preserve the noir heritage. The donations will be used to restore The Sound of Fury (aka Try and Get Me), directed by Cy Endfield. Please donate here.]
A Nightingale's Prayer ( دعاء الكروان / Doa'a Al Karawan in Arabic) is based on a novel by Taha Hussein. Directed by Henry Barakat, it stars Faten Hamama and Ahmed Mazhar. This film from 1959 tackles love, betrayal, revenge, murder, as well as Middle Eastern themes of tradition and shame.
Amna (Faten Hamama), her sister Hanadi (Zahrat El Ola) and mother (Amina Rizk) are forced to leave their village to escape the shame their murdered father has left them after he committed adultery.
Moving away from Bedouin life in the desert, the three women find their way to a nearby town and are suddenly exposed to things they've never seen before like modern transportation and independent women. The two sisters find jobs as housemaids in separate homes. All along you hear the girls being told to watch their behaviour, to be honourable, not to behave badly.
Amna works for a middle class family and through their daughter’s education she is exposed to a world of music, literature, art and fashion that she didn't know about.
Hanadi works for an engineer (Ahmed Mazher) and ends up being seduced by him. I still question if she was a willing partner or not, if it was guilt or shame that led her to confess to her Mother. Upon hearing the shameful news, the Mother decides it’s best they go back to their home and calls the uncle, now the patriarch of the family, to take them back to their village. To preserve the family's honour (Hanadi is blamed for bringing "shame" to her family), the uncle kills her on the way to the village.
Amna, not able to cope with her sister’s death, escapes and goes back to the family she was working for. No longer the sweet and innocent young girl, she’s now burdened with sadness and loss.
When she finds out where the Engineer lives (we never hear his name mentioned once throughout the film) and hears about his mischievous and flirtatious ways with women, she decides she will avenge her sister’s death – she blames him for Hanadi’s death, he's the source of evil that led to her sister's death.
She takes up a job as his housemaid with a plot to poison him. The Engineer tries to have his way with her, just like he did with all the women that worked for him. But is it a case of him using his 'power' over the women that work for him or is it loneliness and an empty lifestyle that he's trying to escape? In all his attempts to "seduce" Amna, she manages to escape his tight grips.
Although she was determined to kill him, she eventually finds out that she is not capable of murdering anyone. She resorts to flirtation, thinking he will fall for her and she will break his heart and devastate him. But the Engineer’s behaviour changed, he was no longer chasing her or showed any interest in her.
Little by little, through various situations, she begins to seei the "human" side of him. Her feelings towards him starts to change, but she still cannot forget what he did to her sister and eventually tells him the truth.
At the beginning of the film, Amna is young and naïve. But she starts maturing emotionally and mentally in the second half of the film, her rage is taken over by confusion and emotions she’s never felt before. The love that develops between her and the engineer soon leads to tragedy.