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The generation that lost hope

Regissør: Mohamed Siam

Following his young protagonist for six years, the documentary Amal also paints a portrait of Egypt during a period marked by dramatic upheaval.


Mohamed Siam's movie Charity follows an Egyptian girl with the same name as the film for six years, during a period when both Amal and her country are in a constantly changing period of wrestling.

We are introduced to Amal as a fifteen year old in 2012. At this point, she is a tough "boy girl" dressed in hoodies, who have realized that it can be easier to be mistaken for being a boy among the young rebels in Egypt. She is in fierce opposition to police and government forces, and threatens her mother to break contact with her if she votes for the military candidate during the upcoming election.

Brutal treatment by the police. Amal's commitment and rage is not hard to understand. She is still heavily influenced by the brutal treatment she received from police during the protests at Tahrir Square in 2011, but also by the fact that her boyfriend was among the victims of the riots at the Port Said football stadium that year.

A few years ago, she also lost her father, without the film specifically addressing how he passed away. Dad's video footage of Amal's birthday celebrations through his childhood acts as a sort of chapter breakdown in the documentary – in addition to illustrating these sequences that he still holds a central position in her life.

Looked for a hooligan. Charity had the honor of opening the 30th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA) in November. In April, the film, which is co-produced by the Norwegian company Barentsfilm and supported by Sørfond, will be shown at Arab Film Days in Oslo.

After the widespread optimism that came with the revolution, the film paints a picture of a young generation with few opportunities and little hope for the future. ”

When he met the audience in Amsterdam, the Egyptian director said he originally looked for a male character among the country's football hooligans to make films – and through this he would draw a picture of Egypt's growing generation. As he searched in this very male-dominated environment, Amal appeared, and he realized that it was her documentary that was about. As the director himself pointed out in Amsterdam, there is a continuing lack of stories about women from the Arab part of the world.

Portrait of Egypt. However, there are far more reasons to make a documentary about Amal, which he initially intended to follow for one year. She is a charismatic, strong-willed and yet vulnerable character, with many traits you can recognize from youth all over the world – and perhaps especially politically engaged youth. Not unusual for this age group, she is in search of her identity and goes through many phases in that way. At the same time, this development seems to reflect the upheavals that are happening to her home country, and thus the film also becomes a portrait of Egypt, during a period marked by dramatic changes.

The strong but traumatized Amal takes these events into account to such an extent that they become governing for her life choices. The film allows us to follow a girl who goes from fighting a fierce battle against the police in particular, to eventually believing that she can accomplish more if she plays on a team with the system – and aims for a career in the police. Over the years the film depicts, she gradually becomes more feminine in style, by using lipstick – but also by gradually wearing the hijab. She also finds a boyfriend with definite opinions about what Egyptian girls can afford, and who influences her in a more conservative direction.

Little hope for the future. Mohamed Siam's film is not unique in portraying a young girl with big dreams and high aspirations, in a society and a culture that sets clear limits to realize these. But it is nevertheless rare for documentaries to follow a person through so many years. With this grip gets Charity a certain "boyhood»Form, in which we witness the main character change with the passing of time (as we also saw in Aslaug Holms brothers). In addition, separates Charity stand out from many other such portrait documentaries in that it is not particularly uplifting.

Following the widespread optimism and belief in social change that came with the revolution, the film paints a picture of a young generation with few opportunities and little hope for the future, in a country that has once again taken the form of a police state. Ironically, one might say: Amal means hope.

Charity appears on Arab Film Days in Oslo, which will be held in the period 19-22. April. 

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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