Imagining Amman: Social Space in When Monaliza Smiled

By George Potter
Submitted to Session P4533 (Creating Jordan: Artistic Production in a Divided Nation, 2016 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
19th-21st Centuries; Arab Studies; Cinema/Film; Current Events;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In the middle of the film When Monaliza Smiled (Fadi Haddad, 2012), the young couple at the center of the movie--the Palestinian woman Monaliza (Tahani Salim) and the Egyptian man Hamdi (Shady Khalaf)--sit in the traffic circle in the upscale Ammani neighborhood of Abdoun. Both are working class, trying to survive on meager government salaries amid steady inflation in Jordan. They survey the restaurants and caf├ęs around them, each priced well beyond their means, and eventually lean against one another, as Monaliza asks, "Do you ever feel like a stranger in your own country?"

It is a small moment in a film that presents itself as a light romantic comedy, but it strikingly foregrounds many of the struggles in contemporary Amman, from economic inequality to distribution of space and from divisions between national identity groups to the lives of migrant workers. This is not only demonstrated through the trials of a Palestinian-Egyptian relationship juxtaposed against the ethno-nationalism of a Jordanian government office, but also through the geographic arrangement of the scenes in the film, which explore the economic and cultural divides between East and West Amman. From bus rides through a variety of socioeconomic spaces that serve as dates to the alienation brought by entire neighborhoods of the city that most Ammanis cannot afford access to, the film attempts to chart the modern geographies and inequalities of Amman.

When Monaliza Smiled rests at the intersection of the neoliberal reassembly of Jordanian space in the capital of Amman and the economic and political reconstruction of Jordanianness in a cosmopolitan capital where Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Armenians, and others must transverse competing economic, social, and geographic boundaries. Built on fieldwork mapping films in Jordan and their relationships to real world social spaces, this paper will explore the often overlooked realm of Jordanian cinema, its relationship to the social geography of Amman, and how it speaks to the challenges of life in a neoliberal authoritarian state.