The Mulberry House


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Ishaq's exploration of what the situation means for women in general is a strength and much more fleshed out than in similar documentaries."

Sara Ishaq's film about the political upheaval and, by extension, human rights abuses in Yemen takes a family's eye view of the situation. Ishaq, although born and partly raised in the Arabian Peninsula country, moved to Scotland with her Scots mum at 17 following her parents' divorce. Ten years on, she returns with a camera to explore her homeland but quickly finds it is in the grip of revolution.

In its early stages, Ishaq's approach feels overly loose, with a lack of political context making it quite difficult to divine the state of the country, although she does successfully immerse us in the extended family dynamic - particularly the relationship between herself, her father and her grandfather. Ishaq has one foot in two cultures and alongside her exploration of the impact of social unrest on the family, she also probes at ideas regarding identity and acceptance.

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Reports of protest against the Government of president Ali Abdullah Saleh are heard via the family's television and it is at this point that Ishaq's film begins to feel more structured and powerful, as the situation quickly escalates. She charts her family's response to this proto-revolution, showing the ways in which many ordinary people become galvanised to attend rallies or simply prepare food to help those that are demonstrating.

There have been several documentaries about the Arab spring from various country perspectives - including Iran's Green Wave and Egypt's The Square - but they have tended to focus on a 'firebrand' point of view. Ishaq's film is more firmly rooted in the every day. Even during a powercut with gunfire ringing out, she captures the fact that one of the young girls in the household is chiefly concerned about whether the electric will be restored before her favourite TV soap comes on in the morning.

Ishaq's portrayal of women in general is also a strength and much more fleshed out than in similar documentaries. We see her talking to her dad at length about his original intention to marry her off at 15, a subject he tries to laugh off with only limited success, although he also makes it clear that he has changed his opinion. Later in the film there is also discussion about dressing 'modestly' during which Ishaq captures the genuine sense of fear among the female populace that they might be attacked if a man feels they come up short. The camerawork is rough and ready and more on the politics of the situation would make for a better film but there's no doubting the strength of sentiment.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2014
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After 10 years in Scotland, Sara Ishaq travels back to her childhood home of Yemen and takes her camera along.

Director: Sara Ishaq

Writer: Sara Ishaq

Year: 2013

Runtime: 65 minutes

Country: Egypt, Syria, UK, Yemen, United Arab Emirates

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