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Rowan El Shimi

I found two elements of Nawara, a film centered on the revolution from its peripheries, fascinating: its feminist focus and its class commentary.

It follows a naive, sweet-natured and ever-optimistic housekeeper Nawara, whose hard life doesn’t seem to get her down. She lives in a low-income neighborhood, where she and her grandmother share a bathroom with their neighbors and have to fill two containers a day from a distant communal tap because water is cut from houses due to government corruption. She’s married to a Nubian man from her neighborhood, Ali (Amir Salah al-Din), who’s business is down and who can’t get his sick father into a public (or private) hospital — but they’ve never consummated their marriage because they can’t afford an apartment.

Jumping from one form of transport to another, the camera narrates Nawara’s difficult daily route to get to her workplace in a rich, suburban gated community, but also shows reproductions of iconic graffiti from the revolution, protests and radio broadcasts giving people updates on Hosni Mubarak’s assets and so on.

Like Khalil’s first feature, Best of Times (Ahla al-Awqat, 2004), Nawara is almost entirely female centered. Women are the decision makers who propel the story forward, while the male characters are passive. Nawara works for Mubarak-regime parliamentarian Osama (Mahmoud Hemeida) and his socialite wif ...

I found two elements of Nawara, a film centered on the revolution from its peripheries, fascinating: its feminist focus and its class commentary.

It follows a naive, sweet-natured and ever-optimistic housekeeper Nawara, whose hard life doesn’t seem to get her down. She lives in a low-income neighborhood, where she and her grandmother share a bathroom with their neighbors and have to fill two containers a day from a distant communal tap because water is cut from houses due to government corruption. She’s married to a Nubian man from her neighborhood, Ali (Amir Salah al-Din), who’s business is down and who can’t get his sick father into a public (or private) hospital — but they’ve never consummated their marriage because they can’t afford an apartment.

Jumping from one form of transport to another, the camera narrates Nawara’s difficult daily route to get to her workplace in a rich, suburban gated community, but also shows reproductions of iconic graffiti from the revolution, protests and radio broadcasts giving people updates on Hosni Mubarak’s assets and so on.

Like Khalil’s first feature, Best of Times (Ahla al-Awqat, 2004), Nawara is almost entirely female centered. Women are the decision makers who propel the story forward, while the male characters are passive. Nawara works for Mubarak-regime parliamentarian Osama (Mahmoud Hemeida) and his socialite wife Shahenda (Sherine Reda), and it’s Shahenda who calls the shots, pushing for the family to escape to London, leading the conversation while he watches an old film on television (My Wife is a General Manager — a woman-driven film from 1966) and takes a dip in the pool. As for Nawara’s in-laws, the father is ill and only whispers one line at the start of the film, while the mother, in spite of her old age and disability, makes decisions for the family. It’s always refreshing to come across stories in which women are not just secondary characters and sex objects.

While there is the classic contrast between Nawara’s crowded, run-down neighborhood and the spacious gated community with its golf courses and pet dogs, Khalil also brings in the middle class in one memorable scene. The heroine is on her way to work, and the street is blocked with protesters. She gets out of her microbus and pushes to the front, demanding that they let traffic through since people have jobs to get to. “We’re doing this for you!” a woman tells her, showing how detached the largely middle-class protesters were from the biting economic woes suffered during and after the revolution.

Casting a Nubian actor as Nawara’s partner also subtly brings in the Nubian struggle and the double standards Nubians face in Egyptian society. After Ali bribes the nurse at the disastrous public hospital to get his father a bed so he doesn’t have to keep sleeping on the floor, she gives it away to someone else. While his ethnicity is not given as the reason, we can read between the lines.

Overall, Nawara does nothing particularly new as a work of cinema, but it still does it well. Its simple plot, likeable characters and commentary on how the poor always end up in the mincer makes it a typical but engrossing melodrama.

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