“The Amina Profile” fittingly makes its way into the spotlight at a time when many Internet users indulge in “catfishing,” a term referring to the act of using a fictitious online persona to lure an individual into a relationship.
Just as MTV’s “Catfish” tracks its participants from initial skepticism all the way to a big reveal, Sophie Deraspe’s compelling documentary follows the same movements. However, “The Amina Profile” brings more depth, including touching upon the rushed truth behind online journalism and the power that the right words can have to manipulate.
It all starts with a friendship between a Montrealer, Sandra Bagaria, and a spirited Syrian-American, Amina Arraf. The women’s relationship gradually grows into a passionate online romance, leading Amina to propose a plan to publicly out herself as a lesbian and to lay out her anti-regime opinions during the Arab Spring in on-the-ground dispatches in her blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus.”
Arraf’s popular blog made national headlines. It was her writing that sparked conversation and controversy until she suddenly went missing. Then the discussions turned to her whereabouts, her safety and to locating her contacts. As more people came forward to confess they could not pinpoint specific information about Arraf, suspicions arose over the credibility of her writing and whether Amina Arraf was – in fact – a real person.
Deraspe relays much of the story by displaying text messages and e-mail on the screen and the writing becomes increasingly unclear following Arraf’s purported arrest. Textual conversations are superimposed on blurred footage of an alluring woman, often walking down narrow streets or reclining in the nude and frequently filmed from the back. Deraspe is also very careful to maintain the sense of unknown identity, often filming the figure from the back. These ingenious decisions not only drive home the points about the indeterminacy of the blogger in question, but also paint a sensual picture of how Bagaria might have envisioned Arraf.
As the viewer travels down the rabbit hole and tries to solve the mystery behind Arraf’s identity, Deraspe never loses her grip on the politics that provide a substantial part of the groundwork for the film. The footage can be graphic, but the filmmaker uses her tricks wisely; she obscures the visual to maintain the seriousness of the film, while skipping over unnecessary gore.
Deraspe worked closely with Bagaria to make “The Amina Profile.” Their collaboration, and Bagaria’s willingness to relive her grief through her participation in the film – a process that has earned her closure on this phase of her life – has paid off in an outstanding piece of work.
“The Amina Profile” opens in Toronto today, August 21, at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West).