With a whimsical Alice in wonderland quality, the short film set in Cairo The Roses, by Amina Abdel-maguid, is a reflection on the materialistic values of modern society and what is really important in life.
Sarah loves flowers. She lives in Cairo and has always been fascinated by the flowers on balconies going through the streets, so much so that she would trip up as a child because she was distracted by them. Her mother tries planting them for her at home but is too busy to care for them, and so they wither. Every year Sarah’s mother has to attend a summit at a conference centre that coincides with Sarah’s birthday. On her sixteenth birthday her mother leaves a letter for her. In it she writes, “I remember I once asked you what you’d like to be when you grow up. You said a rose. I laughed and told you that’s impossible because we’re human. That really upset you back then.”
With her mother’s letter is the gift of a ceramic rose and a ring with a flower on it, and the message “I hope they will live with you forever and never wither.” Sarah’s mother also includes the address of a florist who has all types of flowers: El Nahry Flowers, Path of Knowers, The Heart of Cairo. “If you want, choose all that you like,” she writes to her daughter.
Sarah sets out to find the florist, wandering through the labyrinthine streets of historic Cairo, as the adhan sounds melodiously above. She comes upon an old courtyard in her search, the walls made of smooth hewn stone of different colours, from sandy to rose-tinged, with a patchwork effect that contributes to a dream-like aesthetic. This courtyard is an oasis of calm, with plants in the corners and birds chirping – an escape from the dust and bustle of the streets. There, a single rose peeps out from the wrought iron bars of a window.
Peering at the rose, she pricks her finger, bringing the characterful lady who lives in the house, called Hanan, to the window. She asks for directions to the florist and is invited to stay for tea, with added rose petals. Sarah protests, saying that she can’t stay, but is persuaded to sit down.
“Now tell me, which Nahry do you want exactly?” There are two, the lady tells her. “The old flower nursery is in the path itself. The roses there are alive and fragrant, but they have to be taken care of, otherwise they will wither. The new flower shop is in the extension. A rose there is pretty and flamboyant, but soulless and too expensive for nothing.”
“I want the old nursery,” Sarah replies.
In some down-the-rabbit-hole dialogue Hanan asks her “but what could possibly hold you back from becoming a rose?”
“Well, it’s impossible. Aren’t we human?”
“Impossible?” My dear, there are so many types of humans. Some are like roses, others are like fruit… But there are also bitter human beings, may God guide them and keep them away from us.”
Hanan remembers that the nursery is closed that day and tells Sarah to go there on Friday. As a parting gift she gives Sarah some rose petals to put in her tea to remember her by.
In the sterile environment of the conference hall cafeteria Sarah investigates the roses on the table and finds they are plastic. Her mother, busy on her phone, asks the waitress for a lighter to light a candle on the brownie that is serving as Sarah’s birthday cake.
While her mother seems affectionate to her daughter, she is also distracted, hard-nosed and dismissive of Sarah’s impractical and quixotic interests. Having to leave before Sarah even eats her brownie, her mother apologises and tells her, “Order whatever you like and I’ll see you tonight at home.” This is the second time in the short film Sarah’s mother tries to make up for her lack of attention and presence in her daughter’s life, which is what Sarah really wants, with a materialistic bandage, echoing the phrase “If you want, choose all that you like,” in her letter.
Alone at home, Sarah wears the ring her mother gave her as she cares for a new plant. She places her mother’s other gift, the ceramic rose, into the pot with the live plant, perhaps reconciling herself to the way her mother shows her affection and love for her, even if it does not correlate to the way she would like her to show it. Happy with her plant, she sprinkles the rose petals Hanan gave her into her tea.
This whimsical short film, written and directed by Amina Abdel-meguid, underlines the importance of having space to dream and of the intangible value of things that cannot be calculated monetarily. It shows how dreams and imagination interact with reality, and is an original and perceptive social commentary on the utilitarian and mercenary impulses of modern society. In a world overly concerned with profit and pragmatism, The Roses highlights the importance of real connection and caring for flowers, or people, so that they are able to thrive and bloom.