Lift Like A Girl

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Lift Like A Girl
"Has a visual energy that is spurred on by Marian Mentrup's percussively dynamic score, which arrives at key moments."

Mayye Zayed's fly-on-the-wall study of a weightlifting training gym in Alexandria unfolds as a dual portrait, which has a visual energy that is spurred on by Marian Mentrup's percussively dynamic score, which arrives at key moments. One focus is little Asmaa Ramadan Abbary - known to everyone by the nickname Zebiba (Raisin) - a talented kid, who we meet at 14, with several years training already under her weightlifting belt. Just as important, though, is her trainer, Captain Ramadan, who has already made an Olympic champion out of his own daughter Nahla and others, no mean feat in any circumstances but all the more remarkable when you consider this 'gym' is essentially a patch of scrubland in the middle of an Alexandria street, with traffic whizzing by at all hours.

It may not be fancy but it's a place where "anyone's welcome", boy or girl, although full application is expected all of the time. The Captain brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "tough love" as he berates his charges from the sidelines of competition. "What's the problem?" he yells at Zebiba when she fails at a weight. "Why do you crumble?... You piece of crap!" His bad cop stance alternates with good cop praise and a surprising amount of singing. In short, he's the sort of unorthodox eccentric who is a documentarian's dream.

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Zebiba has a concentrated focus that mostly involves soaking up the next round of emotion from the Captain - and there's no doubt that some of his bullying makes uncomfortable viewing - but his unwavering commitment to his brood is also evident as she and her friends progress through the ranks and age ranges. Zayed embeds herself invisibly among the weightlifting wannabes, following Zebiba over the course of four years as she grows from a kid into a young woman with serious championship potential. Although staying entirely within the realm of the training ground and competition arenas, with all its attendant messiness, Zayed's fully immersed approach allows everyday exchanges to come to the fore, so that we don't just see the push and pull of the training but the camaraderie and support that the girls give one another and the respect the boys also have for them.

There's a palpable sense of the importance of role models, not just Nahla, who was presumably an inspiration for Zebiba, but the way that generation follows generation, as we see a much younger girl already trying to emulate Zebiba's moves - "prioritising boys is outdated," the Captain insists. Over the four years, we see people grow and the situation change dramatically as Zebiba and others emerge, carrying not just back-breaking amounts of kilos, but the weight of expectation.

Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2021
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In a dilapidated corner of Alexandria, an exceptional community of young female weightlifters is trained by the grumpy yet charismatic Captain Ramadan.

Director: Mayye Zayed

Year: 2020

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Egypt, Denmark, Germany

Festivals:

DOC NYC 2020

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