“How does the princess become a queen?” We are hardwired to believe that the answer lies in marrying the prince. But what if there were another way? What if a woman could just come into her own story and that was it for her? After a certain age, unmarried women are seen as misfits. Arab families are no exception, if anything, they have it multiplied. As a French woman with Tunisian descent, I learned this firsthand. That is exactly the angle taken by “Meskina,” a Dutch movie released on Netflix on March 4. As a matter of fact, “meskina” is an Arab word that describes someone who is pathetic in a spiteful way. But is the heroine of the movie rightly a pity case?
“Meskina” pulls you into the life of Leyla (Maryam Hassouni), a Moroccan-Dutch single thirty-year-old aspiring writer. Shaped around a hint of “Bridget Jones” mixed with a more cultural Eastern side, “Meskina” comes to shake things up in the romantic comedy genre. Leyla is pitied upon. However, interestingly enough, she comes forth as an outsider who doesn’t value marriage as much as her entourage does. While her family is partial to gossip and rumors, each funnier than the last about her “lamentable life,” Leyla is actually in a secret relationship with Moroccan-Dutch celebrity Abdelkarim (Olaf Ait Tami). They get married, she works with him at his music label and lives the dream. But after four years, their marriage withered away when the flame burned out and Abdelkarim cheated on her. To escape her prying and judgmental family, Leyla takes a leap on a job at an events company and gives in to letting her family fix her up with a new suitor — make that two, actually. She meets two beaus and doesn’t feel like choosing. There begins a frenetic double-life where Leyla navigates through her boyfriends, her newfound job and writing her book.
On a side note, viewers are given a glimpse of what it is like to live in two different cultures. Two languages get tangled up, whilst Leyla juggles between the life she has outside home and the one — more traditional, that she leads within her family. Similarly, the wedding ceremonies in the movie delve viewers right into the cultural differences. The customary gowns, the music and the decor are all very realistic of the Moroccan marriage.
Throughout the film, Leyla narrates her story to the children in her life in the format of a fairytale. As she longs to be a published author, the two components effortlessly fit together. But Leyla is not your usual “princess.” She goes from not being ready to get married, to having several love affairs to finally understanding that happiness and romantic love aren’t mutually exclusive.
Another compelling point put forth by the plot is how going rogue might direct you to a better road. When Leyla starts working at her new office, she is told to do what she is asked without compromise. Although she doesn’t seem like the bold type, she cannot help but end up doing things her way, which is fortunate, because it enables her to outdo herself. Her agoraphobia often keeps her from living her life fully. Nevertheless, she learns to take a chance on herself, and that epitomizes an inspirational message for viewers.
For once, we are provided with a female lead who refuses to settle down. And the best part is: she could! She has options, and very thrilling ones, yet she willingly chooses to turn them all down, asserting that she doesn’t need “to be saved.” She questions all the fairytales we grew up with, that absolutely take women’s voices away. Leyla articulates that all one truly needs is not to find a partner, but one’s self. The argument is breathtakingly illustrated when Leyla readily takes off and gives up a crown in her final public speech (in actuality, the whole scene was mind-blowing). What an intense, meaningful takeaway; it was surely long overdue.
When her ex-boyfriend (Vincent Banić) metaphorically wishes her a good trip at the end of the movie though she is not actually about to travel, viewers soon understand that Leyla’s voyage is in fact one of finding her own calling. She manages to muster the power to say no to appealing offers that have been laid out for her. Sprinkled with resilient female characters, “Meskina” is a much-needed ode to women empowerment. How long are we going to teach our little girls (i.e. the mothers-to-be of society) that “it’s heroic for a princess to sacrifice her own voice if she wants to succeed in love”?
“Meskina” is now available on Netflix.