Amal

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Amal
"Siam gives his film a strong sense of place, marked by chaos and flux - a city where you can drive past a "Welcome to Egypt" sign and army tanks within two blocks and where revolution may lead you to come full circle."

A little documentarian dedication can go a long way. While many films are made on the fly and in double-quick time, with the likes of Alex Gibney often turning round more than one a year, there's no doubt that those filmmakers who embed themselves with their subjects for longer periods - such as Jonathan Olshefski for Quest or Talal Derki for Of Fathers And Sons - often reap the rewards of intimacy and greater insight.

The devotion of debut feature maker Mohamed Siam is evident from the outset as the list of those who have backed his project scrolls up the screen and crosses the globe and back, a breadcrumb trail of determination. All of which pays off as he follows the adolescence into adulthood of young Egyptian Amal - a girl who has packed more turbulence and tragedy into her two decades on the planet than most of us will, thankfully, see in a lifetime. His film tracks her across her teen years, finally arriving at 20 and womanhood.

Amal lost her policeman dad when she was just 11 - we meet him in flashbacks to her childhood and birthday parties down the years. Three years later, became involved in the 2011 Tahrir Square protests as revolution led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Siam shows footage of her being beaten by police, aged just 14, while we also learn that, less than a year later, her boyfriend died in the Port Said Stadium riot.

All of which is a lot for a single person and, Siam also implies, a country, documenting the way that these events, along with the subsequent rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, shape both her identity and that of her homeland itself - "Nobody gets what they want in Egypt" just about sums things up. Siam captures Amal as a force of nature. We see her precociously wrapping her parents round her finger in the birthday segments, a natural energy that has evolved to anger by the time she is 15 - "You animals!" she screams in the face of a policeman.

She is also discovering her place in the world - and the ways in which that place may be dictated by society at large rather than herself. "Talk to me as a boy not a girl." she insists as a young teen, later saying she "had to be a man" in order to get a place in the protests. But, as the film progresses, we see her slowly begin to conform to more culturally conservative notions of womanhood. The director is quietly observational, showing how her rage flares but also capturing her opposing emotions - including those that led her to slash her wrist at one point and the way that teenagers often vacillate between an adult and childlike response to situations.

Siam gives his film a strong sense of place, marked by chaos and flux - a city where you can drive past a "Welcome to Egypt" sign and army tanks within two blocks and where revolution may lead you to come full circle. Excellent editing, which continues to offer revelations right up until the end of the credits, extends to the sound, which finds unexpected rhythms - such as when Amal drumming her hand on a Tube station entry gate is married to the subsequent noise of the train. This film, at least cautiously hopeful about the rhythm of life although, like Amal, it remains uncertain as to who is leading the beat.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2018
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Documentary tracks the adolescence of a teenager in Cairo.

Director: Mohamed Siam

Writer: Mohamed Siam

Year: 2017

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Egypt, Lebanon, Germany, France, Norway

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