Date Wine explores the effect on an Egyptian village when all the men abandon home in search of greener pastures leaving behind the women and only two men. It seems the men of the village were lured to seek greener pastures by a caravan of masked riders who told the men of riches and luxury to be found outside the village. The two men left in the village are a Grandfather who cannot walk or talk and spends most of the time watching the events of the village without any comments and Ahmed Ali a young boy who grows up in the village after the men have already left. Ahmed grows up surrounded by women and has to shoulder enormous responsibility being the only young man in the village. He works as a postman delivering letters to the women written and sent by the men who have left the village. The women come to rely on Ahmed for many things.
The movie centers around the hard times and loneliness the women feel without their fathers, brothers, lovers and husbands. However cultures and traditions have to transform a bit because any roles traditionally performed by men of the village are now performed by women. Due to the lack of men in that village, men from other villages seize the opportunity to terrorise them by stealing from their farms leaving the women (and Ahmed) to devise means of defending their palm trees. The love between Ahmed and Salma (pictured above) also gets a fair amount of screen time and we also get to see how Ahmed struggles in protecting the village and overcoming his shortcomings. Towards to the end, we see the consequences of the menfolk returning to the village to find that things have changed drastically while they were away.
The men return to the village as failures and seek to maintain some sort of control over the village as they find that things are no longer the same. One woman, Shefa has committed suicide and her husband is told that she did it because she was overwhelmed with sadness while another woman doesn’t let her husband touch her and rebuffs his sexual advances. Salma’s father initially agrees to allow a marriage between his daughter and Ahmed but becomes angry when he discovers that Salma has become pregnant with Ahmed’s baby. I suppose in a way the men feel undermined by Ahmed who is much younger than them, in the scene where they gather to discuss the changes in the village one of them says that Ahmed’s hands and footprints are in every house in the village. Thus the target of their malevolence becomes Ahmed, the only man who stayed behind and grew up in the village surrounded by women. One can say that Ahmed is almost an embodiment of change, of the women’s loneliness and the village’s hard times and the returned men do not wish to face what his existence suggests, which is the remolding of society values in their absence.
Described as one of the most important Egyptian films of the past decade, Date Wine is filled with symbolism that flew past me as I took the movie largely at face value. I didn’t watch the movie from the beginning, so I spent some time wondering where the movie was from (I caught it showing on Magic World Africa, as usual), then debating whether it was worth watching the movie past the 20 minute mark. By the end of the movie, I knew there was a deeper message and thought about other great African dramas from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Luckily, I found a blog discussing the symbolism present in Date Wine.
“This special movie is full of symbols where the director leaves the audience the space to interpret them as they see/feel… From the very first scenes of the strangers wearing masks who came to the village one day to take all its men away… it’s the viewers’ choice to decide who they resemble… some may consider them the government, others may think of them as power, some may think of it as the U.S., while many would consider it oppression… this very same scene carries with it another symbol with the fact that these strangers wanted to take away the strength of the village by taking away its men
Ahmed’s character in the movie resembled Youth and Hope, while the grandfather who cannot talk, but watch all these changes around him resembles History… History which knows the whole story, and knows how things would go, but cannot interfere to change anything or give hand in anything…
One of the best scenes ever in the movie is that of the death of the grandfather… it wasn’t screened as a real death but rather in a very symbolic way with the grandfather, presenting history, deciding to leave since he cannot find himself useful and at the same time cannot stand the corrupted place that the village has turned to…
The return of the men to the village is the beginning of the end, where they reach back destructed from inside, finding everything has changes in their homes, resembled in the physiologically destroyed wives… and as a part of the human nature, they don’t want to admit that their leave was the reason of all this destruction, but rather put all the blame on the young man Ahmed and decides to get rid of him, because perhaps this will make them feel better about themselves… and as bad as it reaches, they decide to make him climb the very tall palm that the village is famous of late at night, and cut it off while he’s on its top… this brilliant scene carries in itself two ideas… they killed the youth and hope resembled in Ahmed, and they killed their traditions and source of power resembled in the palm which used to protect them from the sun and hence all their ugliness showed…”Read more here.