Berlinale's first Yemeni film lays country's struggles bare

AFP , Saturday 25 Feb 2023

Director Amr Gamal said Friday he wanted to "open a window" to Yemen with "The Burdened", the first film from the country ever to show at the Berlinale festival.

Poster of The Burdened

 

Shot in Gamal's home city of Aden, the film follows the struggle of married couple Isra'a and Ahmed as they try to make the best of life in the poverty-stricken country.

Isra'a is pregnant. They already have three children and with school fees due, they know they can't afford a fourth.

The couple decide on an abortion -- an extremely difficult process in the deeply religious and conservative country.

Their quest also takes place against a backdrop of constant obstacles such as military checks in the streets, power cuts and having to haul water from the street to the kitchen.

Gamal, 39, said his main aim was to "open a window to people to see my city".

"Everybody needs something to push them to wake up every morning. And my motive was always Aden," he told AFP.

"I love my city very much and I feel it needs to be documented and shown to the world -- the heritage, the buildings, the streets, the culture, the clothes, the food, the character."

The film offers generous footage of Aden's cityscape against the backdrop of the mountains and ocean, as well as street scenes shot with residents as extras.

'Hard-edged drama'

Gamal said the storyline was inspired by the real-life struggle of a couple he knew.

"I was close to my friend and his wife. Seeing them going through all this, the idea started to grow in me," he said.

In the film, picked for the festival's Panorama sidebar section, the couple both want the abortion -- but Isra'a has more doubts than her husband.

"Maybe if it wasn't for the war, if it wasn't for the economic collapse and they didn't lose their jobs, maybe the fourth child would now be playing with his siblings," Gamal said.

"The Burdened" is Gamal's second feature film, after "Ten Days Before The Wedding" in 2018.

Critics at the Berlinale have praised its true-to-life feel and sparse storytelling.

Screen Daily called it "a hard-edged drama... that approaches abortion in totally matter-of-fact terms, against a backdrop of religious and social pressures in an Islamic country enduring tough times".

Reaching a wide audience at the Berlinale, which runs until Sunday, "feels great", Gamal said.

"It's a rare opportunity to make people see something from Yemen."

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