As I Want

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

As I Want
"The personal emotion of its director Samaher Alqadi punches through the centre of it hard - which gives her film a searing edge even if much of it feels scrappy and politically muddied."

This may be a documentary which is taking a wide view of violence against women in Egyptian society but the personal emotion of its director Samaher Alqadi punches through the centre of it hard - which gives her film a searing edge even if much of it feels scrappy and politically muddied. It's fair, if dispiriting, to note that violence against women in Egypt is not a new phenomenon and, in fact, it continues to worsen, with the Observatory of Crimes of Violence against Women in Egypt recording 813 cases against women and girls in 2021, compared with 415 the year before - a situation that makes this film's particular focus on the Muslim Brotherhood of Mohamed Morsi's time in power rather narrow and outdated.

All of which is not to say that things were bad in the wake of the 2011 revolution, as we see courageous women taking to the streets two years later in protest against a shocking gang rape at a demonstration - shown here and which went viral - and violence against women more generally. Alqadi tries to mix the personal in with the more general. Pregnant for some of the time the film was shot, we see her in black and white - for no particular reason - considering her relationship with both her unborn child and her mother but though, as elsewhere in the film, her strong emotions are never in doubt, we don't learn a great deal about their relationship beyond the fact her mother held very conservative views regarding the role of women in society which seem to be at odds with her more supportive father, although this is never fully fleshed out.

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The film is at its most powerful when Alqadi is documenting actual events, one protest by a small group of women that grows as men are at first goaded, then encouraged to join, or the everyday harassment we see in the streets of Cairo as Alqadi weilds her camera as a weapon against men who make sexual advances. "All our energy is going into opposing men," says one contributor and Alqadi really makes you feel the sheer effort and weight of continuing to live in an environment where you are constantly belittled, at best, and at worst, attacked, simply for being female.

The political element is less successful, given that under the military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that has followed on from Morsi's, the situation has worsened for women - which might well be the very opposite of the takeaway people leave this film with. While that may not be the director's intention, the structure encourages the suggestion that things are potentially improved by the fall of Morsi. This is something many commentators would say is far from the case given that despite the lip service given to women's rights by el-Sisi, those who speak out against the lack of equality often face arrest. As a brave cri du coeur against repression in Egypt, Alqadi's film has plenty of volume but its structure works against it in terms of the debatable political conclusions that viewers might draw.

Reviewed on: 22 Apr 2022
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A consideration of violence against women in Egypt in the wake of Morsi's rise to power.

Director: Samaher Alqadi

Year: 2021

Country: Egypt, France, Norway, Palestine

Festivals:

BIFF 2021

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