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BERLINALE 2021 Encounters

Review: As I Want

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- BERLINALE 2021: Palestinian filmmaker Samaher Alqadi’s debut feature documents the protests following the string of severe sexual assaults that took place in Tahrir Square in 2013

Review: As I Want

In her debut feature, entitled As I Want, Palestinian director Samaher Alqadi tries to document the protests – and her personal odyssey – following the brutal episode of mass sexual assault taking place in Tahrir Square, Cairo on 25 January 2013. The attacks, mostly perpetrated by young men aged 20-30, involved women of any age. Rapists took advantage of the confusion caused by the huge crowd which had gathered on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

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The documentary, taking part in the Encounters section of this year’s Berlinale, sees Alqadi joining the Egyptian women’s just battle. The beginning of her filming process coincides with her falling pregnant, and this event invites her to reconsider her role as a woman, mother and daughter within her family and within Muslim society. As I Want centres its narration on two main levels; one attempts to document the cruel reality of the riots and often features a journalistic look, focusing on the “here and now” dimension of the days prior to Morsi’s fall – cinematically unoriginal, but still informative and worth watching; the other offers a more personal take, showing the effects that the turbulent socio-political climate and women’s oppression had on herself, her close ones and the community she lives in – here, Alqadi’s work gains depth as she shifts her directorial approach from reporting to storytelling.

In one scene, for example, we see the director chatting in a park with a group of very young girls wearing hijab, who find her Western look inappropriate and have been taught that “a woman’s voice is shameful.” A couple of boys of the same age join the conversation and agree with their friends. They say – putting on a light-hearted grin, while maintaining a firm, straightforward tone – that they would divorce from a woman like her, who shows too much of her legs. In another scene, Alqadi’s son seems not to realise how and why her mother was harassed, and the woman together with her husband try to find the right words to explain what happened. Moreover, the film is interspersed with the director’s imaginary conversations with her mother, which allows her to undergo a sort of catharsis and rediscover her painful past in Ramallah.

A more developed exploration of this more intimate sphere could have probably significantly heightened the potential of the whole piece. Nevertheless, As I Want remains a decently engaging non-fiction feature and, most importantly, it represents a strong cinematic bid against women’s oppression in the Arab world.

As I Want was produced by Norway’s Integral Films & Litterature, France’s Temps Noir, Germany's Kaske Film, Egypt’s Prophecy Films LLC and Palestine’s Idioms Films. The world sales agent is yet to be confirmed.

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