When Time Becomes a Woman (Henama Ykoon El Zaman Untha)
Director/Producer – Ahmad Alyaseer, Screenplay – Ahmad Alyaseer & Rana Alyaseer, Photography – Zaid Baqaeen, Music – Philip Hashweh, Visual Effects – Red Team Media Production (Supervisor – Zaid Al Momani). Production Company – Ahmad Alyaseer
Zaid Baqaeen (Zad), Najwan Baqaeen (The Woman)
A man catches up with a woman as she walks along the shores of a desert sea. He tells her he has been searching for her for three years and asks for her to come away with him on a matter of great urgency. She is sceptical and asks why she should. They stand about on the shore and debate the reasons. He reveals to her that he is in fact the revolutionary known as Zad whom she has read much about. However, he also confesses that he is also the one who engineered the virus Zitonis in an effort to eliminate invaders of his country, which had the unforeseen effect of killing millions. While he sees that he was successful in his aims, she tries to bring him to task for the mass deaths. He tells how he subsequently underwent a space journey at relativistic speeds and returned after years had passed to discover that a cure engineered by scientists had had the effect of killing all human beings on Earth. He now explains the reason that she needs to come away with him – she is the last woman left alive on Earth.
How interesting can a science-fiction film be that consists of nothing more than two people standing talking? Nothing else – just two characters in the middle of a desert (and to vary things by a beach). No props, no supplementary characters, no cutaways to things happening elsewhere or voices coming in from outside a la Buried (2010), which centred around Ryan Reynolds buried inside a coffin but used the device of voices on a cellphone to create its drama. The answer is surprisingly enough not too bad a science-fiction film at all. Think maybe something like The Last Woman on Earth (1960) or The Quiet Earth (1985) by way of My Dinner with Andre (1981). Or maybe a variant on one of the 1980s existential science-fiction films such as Stalker (1979), Man Facing Southeast (1986), even the terrible Deceit (1989). In particular, you are reminded of Friendship’s Death (1987), which was also set in Jordan and stripped everything down to a small compact situation set in a single hotel room where a man and a woman were debating whether one’s extraordinary claims were real or not.
When Time Becomes a Woman boasts that it the first science-fiction film made in Jordan. It is a debut feature for Ahmad Alyaseer, a Jordanian filmmaker in his early twenties, who normally runs a wedding photography business. Alyaseer shot the film with a two-person cast with many of them doubling as behind-the-scenes crew making up a five-person production crew in total. The film was shot in a remote area of Amman on the shores of the Dead Sea, which borders Jordan and Israel (it being so named because of the high saline content in the water that prevents plant life from growing in the area, which leads to a strikingly beautiful and desolate locale). The film received some international festival play.
I have to admit it took me a while to become invested in When Time Becomes a Woman. If I was one of these people who switch off/walk out after the first 20 minutes/half-hour then I probably would not have made it to discover what the film holds. The early scenes seem to float around issues of a philosophical nature. Zaid Baqeen catches up with Najwan Baqeen and tells her that he has been trying to find her for three years and that she must come away with him on a matter of great urgency. She demands to know why. For a long time, the film ducks back and forward on these questions – of why she should trust anything he says and associated philosophical questions of outlook, gender relations and so on. This is interesting but on its own somewhat dull, although I did like the way that the script kept dancing around possibilities but stayed on an existential fence, never proving, never denying anything, just contrasting possibilities about what could be the case and boiling everything down to a crucial issue of why either is right in their claims and why anybody should trust each other.
Things start to become interesting when Najwan Baqaeen speaks of an admiration for the revolutionary leader Zad and Zaid Baqaeen then reveals he is that person. This leads to discussion about imprisonment and freedom, the idea of what the revolutionary represented contrasted with the reality of the person before her and the gradual revelation that he was responsible for releasing a virus to kill off the invaders (the subtitling never seems to specify whether this refers to invaders in the alien sense or in terms of terrestrial occupiers of land – one presumes the latter). A series of progressive revelations reveal that his actions were in fact responsible for killing off all life on Earth.
This however is only the beginning of the revelations that are in store. The film passes through a series of twists and turns about what happened, who the two really are and the circumstances that led them there, not to mention his reasons for wanting her to come away with him. These prove to be quite astonishing as the surprises are gradually unveiled. I won’t spoil any of these for you because they are the things that make the film work and should be preserved and viewed without foreknowledge. Indeed, without them, When Time Becomes a Woman is just two people standing about talking. What particularly impresses about the film is how it manages to stretch to doing the conceptual reversal switches of science-fiction films like Open Your Eyes (1997), Dark City (1998), The Matrix (1999) et al and produces twists that are as ingenious as any of these but never goes any further than just two people talking on a beach. That is a feat of considerable ingenuity. The ending the film reaches and the way this twists around on the words that Zaid Baqeen had said earlier about who he is and what he represents has a considerable bite and is haunting.