Exploring the Complexities of Culture and Choice in ‘Elaha’

Milena Aboyan’s thought-provoking drama, ‘Elaha,’ challenges societal expectations of virginity and explores the struggles of a young woman navigating self-discovery within cultural traditions.

Exploring the Complexities of Culture and Choice in ‘Elaha’

Milena Aboyan’s thought-provoking drama, ‘Elaha,’ delves into the struggles of a young woman navigating self-discovery within the confines of cultural traditions. The film challenges the notion of virginity as a socio-cultural construct, shedding light on the emotional toll it can take on individuals.

Exploring the Complexities of Culture and Choice in 'Elaha' - -1059097468

( Credit to: Loudandclearreviews )

In the Kurdish community at the heart of the film, virginity equates to purity, a quality expected of women on their wedding night. The film explores the societal pressure placed on Elaha (portrayed by Bayan Layla) as she faces the impending demand for proof of her virginity from her soon-to-be in-laws. However, Elaha has previously had sexual experiences, and the expensive surgery to reconstruct her hymen is beyond her means. Faced with disappointing her own parents and the mounting anxiety about her future as a wife, Elaha finds herself in a desperate search for the right choice.

Exploring the Complexities of Culture and Choice in 'Elaha' - 1386074818

( Credit to: Loudandclearreviews )

Throughout the film, Elaha breaks the fourth wall and looks directly into the camera at three pivotal moments. These intimate glances invite viewers into her world, allowing them to experience her thoughts and emotions. From the opening shot, where her gaze is somewhat jarring, to the final moments of acceptance and decision-making, this powerful motif encapsulates the full emotional impact of Elaha’s journey.

Navigating Tradition and Modernity

‘Elaha’ navigates the gray area between tradition and modernity, a space familiar to countless women worldwide. It delves into the clash between familial and cultural expectations and the desire for self-identity, feminism, and bodily autonomy. Aboyan’s script strikes a balance between pointedness and respect, refusing to offer a rose-tinted view of Elaha’s predicament. The film grants her agency while acknowledging her love for her family and the inclination to conform. This nuanced portrayal may frustrate viewers unacquainted with deeply rooted cultural traditions, especially when such importance is placed on a minuscule body part with no physiological function directly linked to virginity. Nonetheless, it effectively highlights the complexities at play.

The Symbolism of Virginity

The film’s true power lies in its exploration of the concept of virginity. Elaha yearns to repair something society deems ‘broken’ after engaging in sexual activity. Symbolically, she seeks to mend herself under the assumptions and expectations imposed upon her. She finds herself torn between her love for her family, steeped in culture and tradition, and her desire to transcend the limitations set by these customs. Aboyan avoids casting judgment on either side, opting instead to poignantly depict the suffocating weight of expectations and the terrifying nature of honesty. The film avoids oversimplification, acknowledging the multifaceted nature of Elaha’s mother, who initially appears judgmental but is ultimately a complex character struggling with her own pride. Elaha’s father, initially dismissive, also grapples with fulfilling his prescribed role within the family.

A Captivating Performance

The supporting cast is given depth, allowing the drama to breathe and deliver its emotional impact. However, the focus remains on Layla’s exceptional performance as Elaha. Her restrained yet emotionally charged portrayal effectively conveys her anxiety, fear, resilience, and anger. Layla’s performance captures the essence of Elaha’s dilemma, anchoring a film that resonates with thousands of young women experiencing similar journeys of self-discovery.

A Poignant and Powerful Exploration

‘Elaha’ is a poignant and powerful drama that explores the intricate interplay between culture and choice. It does not seek to provide definitive answers or present defiant messages about outdated and arguably flawed concepts of virginity and sexuality. Instead, the film delves into the profound impact these notions have on a young woman’s journey of self-discovery. Watching Elaha’s journey unfold is both unsettling and empowering, as she navigates the complexities of her cultural identity and personal desires.

‘Elaha’ premiered at the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival and will be released in cinemas across the UK & Ireland on April 26, 2024.

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