Featuring actors Salma Hayek and Tahar Rahim, I Saved My Belly Dancer is a lavish production by Youssef Nabil (b. 1972, Cairo; lives in New York) filmed in high definition with a color treatment reminiscent of hand-tinted vintage photographs.

The film is a hypnotic allegory of Egypt’s cultural heritage and the shifting perceptions of the position of women in the region. In the Middle East, belly dancing was once considered a high art form, and would be regularly performed at weddings and other kinds of celebrations. In recent years such elegant customs—together with their associations with a relatively liberal attitude toward women—have been increasingly placed under threat by the rise of conservative religious sentiments on one hand and the objectification and sexualization of women within commercial imagery on the other.

In this sense, the film laments the fading of once-proud and meaningful traditions amid the changing ideological circumstances of the artist’s native country. At the same time, it hints at the possibility that such legacies may yet survive both in memory and in exile.