Modern Love in an Ancient World

An interview with Sharif El Ramly, scriptwriter of The Bride of the Nile

by Shosha Adie

People have been documenting Egyptian history for thousands of years through a myriad of different mediums, from papyrus to film. However, the most enduring feature of this human experience must be romance. Directed by Edouard Mills-Affif, The Bride of the Nile doesn’t give us the fairy tale ending we have grown to expect but something much more moving; the reality of love for millions of women around the world.

Heba is the quiet heroine of this story, a young Egyptian who, like many before her, is destined to marry a man that she barely knows. She had originally been betrothed to another, the charming Ahmed who was her first love, but this family arrangement fell apart suddenly and with dramatic consequences. The film follows her uncle’s relentless attempts to persuade her to follow her heart, and to understand what structures are in place that will not allow her to do so.

“This film is about separations,” Sharif El Ramly, the concerned uncle and filmmaker, tells me, “It is a movie about the big absent that is love.”

El Ramley’s own journey for love took him to France, where he divorced his first partner and now lives with his current wife. When he finished his degree in journalism he was faced with the problem of being “a French journalist in France… when not French or from France”. This struggle for translation threw him into the world of cinema and of Mills-Affif, the mentor of his first thesis, who later became the best man at his wedding.

What he wanted to show in his collaboration with Mills-Affif on this film, was that in Egypt “It is money which rules this situation. Not love”. He tells me that “Marriage is a family affair, a family business and not a personal story”

In order to capture this story the film duo had to work under the government radar, as they knew getting the authorisation to film in the marginalised countryside would have been near impossible.

In one particular instance, they even got their camera confiscated at customs, having to film the final parts of the film on a cheap DSLR camera they had picked up in Cairo. But not only did they have to work in secret from the outside, they had to make sure no-one on the inside got their hands on the footage because not even the family knew the whole story about the affair.

Sex, love and marriage are volatile topics in Egypt today, but instead of shying away from these controversial topics, The Bride of the Nile explores them with an authenticity and intimacy that is a rare sight in cinema today.

El Ramly has always been concerned with justice, the asymmetrical treatment of young women in Egyptian society being an issue close to his heart. “You start to think, this is just against nature. Even against Islamic religion, because Islamic religion invites people to get to know each other, it invites culture to co-live with one another. The extremists always try and separate society, poor from rich, capitalist from socialist but also the genders.”

His fight to bring the contemporary problems that Egypt faces into the foreground continues with his next project, a documentary on how Egyptian communities in France perceive the upheaval in their homeland and whether tradition really is as impenetrable as it seems.

THE BRIDE OF THE NILE is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Thursday 30 March, 9:00 AM
Information and tickets here