‘Basma’ Netflix Review: A Pensive Father-Daughter Drama About The Aftereffects Of The Pandemic

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This world has witnessed certain events that have reshaped the way life functions. I’m talking about stuff like the meteor killing the dinosaurs, the two World Wars, the advent of the internet, etc. Since we’re still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, I guess its impact on mankind is underplayed. People do want to forget all about it as they keep enforcing something called “The New Normal.” We don’t know what governments and health organizations have learned from it or how prepared they are to deal with something as cataclysmic as the pandemic. In addition to that, since various parts of the planet are dealing with literal genocides, which is understandably overwhelming, the pandemic does seem like a thing of the past. However, Basma shows that a close look exposes the fact that the pandemic has done irreparable damage, and recovery will be an uphill task.

Fatima AlBanawi, who has directed, written, and starred in the titular role, tells the story of Basma, who is doing her PhD in environmental engineering at a university in Los Angeles. She returns to her home in Jeddah and meets her brother, Waleed; her sister-in-law, Hind; her nephews, Sulaiman and Hamza; her mother, Manal; and their housekeeper, Sameera. Their warm welcome soon turns cold as Basma realizes that her father, Dr. Adly, is not around. Manal and Waleed inform Basma that her father and mother have been separated for quite some time now, and they didn’t want to let her know because it would’ve affected her and put a damper on her studies. Manal and Waleed accuse Dr. Adly of becoming stir-crazy after the pandemic and causing all kinds of issues in the family. Basma tries to meet Dr. Adly, but the paranoid man doesn’t let her in. He does show up at a family gathering, but he leaves almost immediately due to his prickly relationship with his brother, Adel. Basma accompanies her father to his home so that she can see how well he is doing, and, well, the accusations don’t exactly turn out to be wrong. However, Basma notices that there’s room for improvement. So, she decides to stay with her father and see where it goes.

On the surface, Basma is about a woman learning about the complexities of her family after living a somewhat idyllic and academic life for several years. She remembers her family members a certain way and is unaware of how far the dynamics between them have changed. And that’s why the news about her father comes to her as a shock. She is left with two options: she can either accept the narrative about her father that’s being peddled by her family and maintain her distance from him, or she can get a first-hand experience of what her father has turned into. Basma chooses the latter because she understandably refuses to believe that a pandemic can cause such a drastic change in a man of science. However, instead of being a passive observer and coming to a decision after assessing Dr. Adly’s situation, she starts restructuring his life according to her opinions. She thinks she is liberating him, but she doesn’t realize that she is actually suffocating him with the plethora of alterations to his daily routine. By the time she does understand that she is in the wrong, it’s too late. It’s interesting that her own body keeps giving hints that she is aggravating an already tense climate, yet she ignores it because she wants to convince herself that she can fix her family.

Fatima’s direction in Basma feels like she is telling a very personal and intimate tale. She doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the ending. She wants the story to move at a slow pace so that the viewers can not only appreciate the production design, the costumes, the sets, the lighting, the geography of Jeddah (and what it has to say about its people), and every other technical detail, but also find a part of themselves in this narrative. The song-and-dance scenes do feel very awkward and amateur, and they could’ve been handled better to feel spontaneous. As a Bengali, it’s always nice to see dialogue-heavy scenes centered around a dinner table or food; it’s really relatable. However, the aforementioned slow pace does expose the flaws in the storytelling. For starters, we don’t learn a lot about Basma’s family life before the pandemic. The character has an idea of the status quo she wants to reinstate by “fixing” her father, but it’s never really clear, and then the story takes a very predictable path to get to its conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that it robs the story of its emotional weight.

Fatima AlBanawi is stunning in the titular role. Her transformation from this giddy individual to someone who is a little more world-weary than she was at the beginning of her journey is beautiful. Yassir AlSasi is great as the troubled Dr. Adly. I like how his quirks seem funny or dangerous with the right shift in tone. All of his scenes with AlBanawi are fantastic. I think they should’ve had more intense conversations instead of that one explosive fight. Then, there would’ve been a bit of a build-up to Basma’s realization that she was wrong. Terad Sindi is really good. His big-brotherly energy is absolutely palpable. Again, his chemistry with AlBanawi is so sweet and heartwarming. Zeituna Amin and Shaima don’t get a lot of screen time, but they are quietly amazing. Mai Hakeem tells so much about what her character has endured with her body language and eyes. She should’ve had more scenes. Adnan Naif Badrah is really sweet. The laziest actor in the cast is Mohammed Essam in the role of Hamza (for all intents and purposes, this is a joke because Essam is a toddler who cutely sleeps throughout the film). The few scenes that feature Suza Abul AlKhair and Mohammed Fawzi are nice. The conversation between Fatima and Fawzi is such a refreshing take on the “friends to lovers” trope, as they usually tend to be very cringeworthy. The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t have a lot of scenes as the film is centered around Fatima and Yassir, but, trust me, they are all brilliant.

Every pandemic-related film runs the risk of feeling dated because, as mentioned before, people are desperately trying to distance themselves from it. So, even if they see a reflection of what they went through, they will probably downplay it because they don’t want to accept that they’ve done some stupid and irresponsible stuff between 2019 and 2023, thereby aggravating an already dangerous situation and jeopardizing the lives of others. But Basma feels like a cut above the rest because it’s not about the pandemic but the lasting and undeniable aftermath of that worldwide incident. So, if you are willing to know that there’s a universality to the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, then I think you should give Basma a try. Additionally, since Fatima AlBanawi’s feature film debut is so confident and full of empathy, I’ll be eagerly looking forward to what she does next.


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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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