What Comes Around


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

What Comes Around
"What emerges is a portrait of, largely female, resourcefulness built on solidarity with others in the community."

Many of the documentaries to emerge from Arabic countries in recent years have focused, unsurprisingly, on political turmoil, including Jehane Noujaim's The Square, which followed a group of revolutionary activists in Cairo. Reem Saleh's puts macro-politics aside to get down to community street level for this documentary about the Rod El Farag district of the same city.

Densely populated and impoverished, those who live there are nonetheless described as "one big family" near the start of this film, which focuses on a handful of the residents over six years, with a particular emphasis on women, including mum Umm Ghareeb, single mum Nagwa and feisty youngster Dunia.

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The title refers to the various community credit unions that run in the district, which sees each person contribute weekly or monthly, with all contributors taking it in turn to collect 'the pot' of cash each time - no small amount. Residents often use their 'windfall' for things like weddings, large purchases like motorbikes or, controversially, in the case of Dunia, to pay for Female Genital Mutilation.

Saleh immerses herself in the lives of the district, opening the film out from mere considerations of where the money goes to explore what makes the individual lives involved tick. What emerges is a portrait of, largely female, resourcefulness built on solidarity with others in the community. The cash from the collection is dished out according to who needs it most, another mark of give and take that makes the system and the community work more smoothly.

Over the course of six years, we watch as marriages are made and crumble and physical and mental ill health take their toll on various members of the women's families. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the women are seen to be the chief carers and are often left holding the baby(ies), while men are treated as a priority, while also being more free to make their excuses and leave. But this is a celebration of what is being achieved rather than hand-wringing at what is not.

Sometimes the film makes you wish there was more interrogation of people's motives, not least little Dunia, who despite her father's opposition, is determined to go ahead with the FGM. Her comments on why she wants the operation are forthright, but give her dad's opposition and her mother's apparently lukewarm reaction, we are left to wonder where they have stemmed from.

"Poverty isn't a lack of money, it's a lack of soul," someone tells Saleh - like much in this engaging documentary, it's something to think about.

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2019
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What Comes Around packshot
Immersive documentary about the residents of a poor area of Cairo.

Director: Reem Saleh

Year: 2018

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, Qatar, Slovenia


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