Our Males and Females, directed by Ahmad Alyaseer, is a deeply moving and challenging film that addresses gender identity, family relationships, religious ritual and societal expectations. The film follows a father (Kamel El Basha) and a mother (Shafeqa Al-Tal), who’s transgender daughter has died in unspecified circumstances. Her body has been returned to them in Jordan but as per tradition (the Islamic ritual known as Ghusl Mayyit), her body must also be washed before burial. The parents struggle to find a washer, due to certain people’s disapproval of their daughter’s sexuality, and they must decide what to do with dusk fast approaching. The film cuts to the core of human dignity and freedom.
Our Males and Females is a complex and affecting film, navigating a multitude of issues in a tactful and heartfelt way. The film has depth and weight, while also leaving room to expand further with an extended runtime. The film opens with a prayer: a broken and desperate prayer. By these words, these murmurings of the soul, we are introduced immediately to the climate of grief and mourning, the landscape of loss, and to the religious beliefs through which many people in Jordan interpret loss. The film does not focus on the life of the daughter per se, but rather on the turmoil—the internal conflict—of the parents in the aftermath of her death. The father and his determination to keep to the cleansing ritual in spite of the refusal of those around him; the mother and her wrestling with her religious views and their compatibility with her love for her daughter.
In its entirety, Our Males and Females does a phenomenal job of presenting some of the intricacies of sexual identity, religious tradition and societal norms, while holding the view that prejudice is always destructive and painful for those involved. It tackles shame, innocence, love and sacrifice with humanity and wisdom. The faith of the parents, and their neighbors, is not belittled or condemned, but it is questioned. Their relationship to their transgender daughter, it is alluded to, is fractured—it is filled with pity and regret—and the film builds from this dislocation. The parents are not heroes, unconflicted and valiantly fighting for their daughter, but they are flawed people capable of doing both courageous good and thoughtless wrong. The neglect shown towards the daughter from members of the community can be hard to watch, the film is unsettling in its depiction of isolation and exclusion, but it always keeps a certain objectivity.
The performances from lead actors Kamel El Basha and Shafeqa Al-Tal are grounded and authentic. Their movements and facial expressions capture the raw and devastating experience of losing a child, while equally communicating uncertainty and confusion with understated poise and emotion. At times, both are framed looking beyond: to the horizon or—perhaps—to God. It is not always clear what they are thinking, or whether they are thinking at all. There is so much covered in such a short amount of time: familial love; faith and inequality; shame and society. What is always maintained is the innocence of the daughter. Her body is never framed in its entirety and there is a silent sadness to her presence in the film, that even in death her life is scrutinized and her body excluded.
The performances are underpinned by impressive cinematography (by Samer Nimri) and score (by Philip Hashweh). The film blends a muted color palette with exceptional use of silence and ambient sound. There is so much space in the film for thought, feeling and response. As the viewer, you are not bombarded with sounds or visual distractions, but faced with carefully crafted scenes that encourage you to contemplate and, ultimately, to deepen in kindness and acceptance and empathy.
Our Males and Females delivers a harrowing but impossibly hopeful story that powerfully resonates with the contemporary consciousness. The film refrains from judgement or smiting, but instead opts for incisive and subtle storytelling. At each level—artistic and technical—Our Males and Females succeeds. The film creates an intimate atmosphere, as well as a space within which to consider, closely and personally, the complexities and failures of day-to-day life. The film is lasting and poignant. . . lingering long after the final credits.