Updated: Friday, 3rd July 2020 @ 7:20am

Cinema review: The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni @ Cornerhouse

Cinema review: The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni @ Cornerhouse

By Sophia Rahman

As much a commentary on fame, truth and cinema, this rhythmic and colourful documentary uses its tragic Egyptian film star’s work to deliver an endearing piece of cinema.

The Three Disappearances… is comprised solely of grainy Technicolor and black and white VHS footage from 62 of Hosni’s 83 features.

It uses the breadth and range of her craft to expose the tragedy of this beautiful starlet’s life though her canon up until her mysterious death in London 2001.

During the Q&A with the Lebanese video artist and filmmaker Rania Stephan following the screening, she explained her thoughts behind the piece: “She lived on the cinema screen, she married in the cinema, and she died cinematically. The only person I wanted to meet was her. Why would I use any external elements when it’s all there on screen?”

Structured into a prologue, three acts, and an epilogue, we are shown Hosni grow from a vibrant adolescent into an impassioned woman, all the while singing, dancing, laughing and crying, using the same face and body to carry dozens of different names.

There is a narrative arch of comedic and vivacious clips towards the beginning, winding down into violence and despair towards the conclusion.

Stephan told of her emotion when hearing of the actor’s death, saying: “I was shocked, stunned, when she died, like many in the Arab world.”

This triggered the artist to embark on her decade-long quest to create her homage to Hosni.

The filmmaker uses slights of hand to shape a tale with the illusion of depth, utilising myriad different tones of clips.

Rhythmically switching between the frenetically chaotic, using quick cuts overlaid with shrill Middle-eastern dance music; and dreamlike melancholy, created by drops off in sound, slow motion, and looping footage in reverse.

Stephan said of the ethereal third act, which alludes to her apparent suicide: “I felt as though she may have been exhausted, which is why she drifts in an out of sleep, and all seems like a dream.”

The power of Hosni’s performances and the dynamism of the cuts suck us into believing we have learnt something of her, that we know her.

Though simultaneously undermining the façade that the image provides any real insight into the subject, they are simply reduced to a screen for the projection of our own ideas and emotions.

The Arabic word for ‘star’, ‘habib’, is inexorably linked with ‘habibi’, meaning ‘my love’ – and when in one of her youthful embodiments in the first act, Hosni cries ‘One day, they will call me habib!’, the knowledge that all the fame a person could ever wish for would not change her tragic demise leaves a poignancy hanging over the whole piece.

This leaves the impression that although the film certainly posits challenges to the truth – or lack thereof – in the image, it frustrates audience’s desires to really understand why Hosni committed suicide, or indeed gain any knowledge into her personal life.

But then maybe this is the point.

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