x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Local film shows true extent of Gulf's love of cars

Moaza al Sharif talks to Richard Whitehead about her film on the Emirati love affair with cars.

Moaza al Sharif was inspired to film the documentary Second Wife through a conversation with her brother.
Moaza al Sharif was inspired to film the documentary Second Wife through a conversation with her brother.

"She's my first wife," says one proud young Emirati. "She completes me," says another. They are, of course, referring to their cars. In a short film, Al Zawja Al Thania (Second Wife), Emirati filmmaker Moaza al Sharif shows clips of 15 UAE nationals, young and old, male and female, talking about their attitudes towards cars. The movie premiered at the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai, which ended last week.

It takes the form of a series of talking heads, often shot alongside their cars, explaining how they feel about their pride and joy. The man talk is every now and again tempered by contrasting feminine views and pictures of high-powered cars performing burnouts and doughnuts on public roads. It provides a highly entertaining quarter of an hour; however for true petrolheads, it might come as a reality shock.

"I didn't get married because of cars," says one of the older characters, who takes a more pragmatic line to his all-consuming vehicular passion. While most of the audience laughed, some men looked more than a little pained. Al Sharif explains her inspiration for Second Wife. "My brother was joking with me one day, asking why we should spend so much money on weddings when he would just rather buy a car," she says. "When I looked into this, I found out that there are plenty of other guys who think this same way."

Indeed, the nuptial theme carries on. "What do I think of getting engaged?" asks one of the protagonists. "I'd say no. I'd get engaged to another car in the showroom." But in spite of the considerable on-screen support for this viewpoint, al Sharif contends that the movie's meaning is quite the opposite. "The message I wanted to send out through the documentary is this: don't compare a wife with your car," she explains. "Your car is just something you use to take you from place to place. It is not something you should spend all your time with. Also, I looked at why men over-exaggerate their love for their cars.

"I spoke to this one guy during the filming. He was going to have a birthday party for his car. He was even going to have somebody bake a cake for it to celebrate his car's birthday. And others are the same. I met guys who actually sleep in their car; they keep clothes in the boot and change there. They consider their car to be a house because they clean it so much and spend so much time in it." Second Wife takes the central tenet of documentary filmmaking very seriously: the camera does not judge or lampoon. Instead, it uses a well-balanced range of viewpoints, and the words and expressions of the subjects make all the points for al Sharif without her needing to editorialise.

It is both a light-hearted look at a subject that is central to Emirati life and a quirky social analysis. But it does not aspire to be anything more than it appears on the screen: documentary entertainment. Throughout the feature, though, it is clear to see how most of the subjects really do live for their vehicles. For a right-thinking audience, their opinions would be watched with horror and astonishment.

It chronicles those who spend 90 per cent of their income on their car payments. It shows those who shirk their household chores, but who are happy to change a cylinder head in a split second. And, of course, it tells the story of the car lovers firm in the belief that their brides will always come second to their rides. The film is part of al Sharif's coursework at Dubai Women's College; there are no plans for a release at present.