“Scales” is a Saudi film written and directed by Shahad Ameen. After her short film “Eye & Mermaid” (2013), the director reuses the myth of the mermaid and deepens some of the ideas present in her short film.
“Scales” was the official submission of Saudi Arabia for the “Best International Feature Film” category of the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021. In 2019 the film won the “Verona Film Club Award” of the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
Hayat (played by Basima Hajjar) is a young girl born in a village with strange traditions. Each family must sacrifice one of its daughters to the creatures of the sea. In return, the sea creatures are hunted by men.
To honor this sacrifice, some throw away their baby daughters, others wait until they are older. Hayat’s father, Muthana (played by Yagoub Alfarhan), has refused this sacrifice and is rejected by the village since this decision. Through this refusal, he is perceived as a weak man who goes against the interests of the village.
This idea of a sacrifice, in order to have a good hunt or good resources to provide for the needs of a village inevitably brings to mind Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man” (1973).
This notion of sacrifice also refers us to a more social aspect. Linked to the condition of women in Saudi Arabia, where the domination of men largely oppresses women.
The progressive transformation of Hayat is also one of the main subjects of the film. Like her father, she has also been seen as an outcast since childhood.
When her feet touch the water, scales gradually form, but she refuse this change and would rather hunt with men. She will go as far as to confront directly the marine creatures to be finally accepted by the men. Basime Hajjar, despite his young age, delivers a performance close to perfection, she fits perfectly into this universe as strange as distressing.
The photography of João Ribeiro is sublime, he uses to perfection Oman and its various seascapes.
The use of black and white allows to make this small coastal village unreal, it give us the impression to attend a count taking place in a dystopian universe.
The presence of mermaids and the very slow rhythm of the film also reinforce this idea. It’s difficult to localize the village and its inhabitants but also to define the time in which the story takes place.
The use of black and white harmonizes perfectly with the differents marine visuals and its reflections and allows to João Ribeiro to deliver a sumptuous photography.
This film, like Robert Eggers’ excellent “The Lighthouse” (2019), shows us that black and white can be an interesting and relevant artistic choice, even in 2021.
“Scales”, through its photography, its subtext and the performance of its actors is a successful and very interesting film.