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Richly textured in its story, visuals, and symbolism, this 1998 Egyptian feature by writer-director Radwan El-Kashef has the emotional directness of a tribal myth and the moral wisdom of a cautionary tale. A village on the southern fringe of a desert is emptied of its men after masked mercenaries falsely promise them lucrative work up north, and the women, left to the cope with the daily chores, are aided by an irrepressible teenager named Ahmed (winsome teen heartthrob Sherihan). El-Kashef portrays with great empathy the plight of the women, who are bonded by hard work and compassion yet flexible within the patriarchal code of honor. He also contrasts Ahmed, who passes into adulthood by accepting new responsibities, with the boorish, possessive men, who return from their fool’s errand filled with bitterness. The bravura sequences—a shower of dates shaken from palm trees, a furtive abortion, an ululating crowd of torch-bearing women on the march—are breathtakingly primal, exemplifying El-Kashef’s blend of atmospheric music and chiaroscuro cinematography.