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Short Film Review: Ladies Coffee (2024) by Amal Al-Agroobi

Ladies Coffee still 2
"I hope she doesn't pray in this room"

The divination ritual of reading a coffee cup goes back hundreds and even thousands of years. Despite the uncertainty behind its origin and how it began, Arabs have been practicing this ritual since ancient times, and it's one of the traditions that most expresses Arab identity and is usually ever-present in evening coffee sessions among women in particular, with older women usually doing the divination. When it comes to how the ritual must be performed, there are a few rules. The coffee itself needs to be Arabic or Turkish and needs to be poured into cups with white interiors that come with saucers. Then the saucer must be placed on top of the cup after finishing the drink, sloshing the covered remains thrice clockwise, then inverting the cup onto the saucer and letting the coffee sediments settle for a few minutes. implements the ritual as the base of her 9-minutes short, which moves into horror paths.

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Zeina and her daughter Reem arrive at the house of the former's friend, Roula, for an Arabic coffee matinee. The house is the epitome of maximalism, with ornate and evidently expensive furniture and ornaments found all over the place, which does not escape Zeina's attention, who passes her criticism almost immediately, behind her friend's back. The discussion soon moves towards Reem's disconnection with her Syrian roots, while Roula eventually proposes to read their coffees, causing the young girl's perplexion, who is not sure where Islam stops and rituals and superstitions begin. Things, however, take a rather surprising and quite unusual turn as soon as the reading begins.

Regarding context, Al-Agroobi implements a very smart approach, which manages to present her comments in rather subtle fashion, through the brief remarks of her protagonists. The concept of Islam and what it means to be a good Muslim is one of them, as is the cultural gap between the people who were born in the Middle East and the Arabs who were born in the West, as in the case of Reem, who seems to be more British than Arab.

Ladies Coffee still 1

This approach is also what brings us to the coffee reading, which is where the transition of the film gradually takes place, with the director also handling it quite well. From the look in the mirror, the appearance of the uncle, to the reading of the coffee and the discussion afterwards, all aim at building an atmosphere of disillusionment, which turns into horror just as the movie concludes, in rather shocking fashion. At the same time, though, it seems that the short would definitely benefit from some extra time, since the last scene seems more like a beginning of something than a conclusion. One could also perceive this aspect as Reem descending into madness after coming into contact with the Arab rituals (which go essentially against Islam) but this comment is somewhat far-fetched.

DP Beatriz Delgado Mena captures the whole setting nicely, with the scene in the mirror being the apogee of her effort. Clare Conway has done an excellent job in the production design, with the house looking like something out of a gothic nightmare, while Will Fletcher and Shawn Briggs's editing results in a relatively fast pace that suits the aesthetics of the short. Furthermore, the transition towards horror is smooth, in a testament to both theirs and the director's work.

as Reem plays the girl who finds herself out of her depth in multiple levels convincingly. as Zeina and as Roula highlight the similarities women of the previous generation shared in the best fashion.

“Ladies Coffee” is an intriguing short that presents its comments in intricate fashion. The horror part, though, could have been handled better, in a short that would definitely benefit from some additional duration.

About the author

Panos Kotzathanasis

My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia.

Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute.

In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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