Sandra Itäinen’s graceful, slice-of-life documentary follows Emna Abdelhedi, a young Muslim woman living in New York City, where she has found safe harbor with a group of like-minded queers. Emna is struggling with coming out to her mother, whom she visits frequently in Columbia, Missouri.
Their encounters, often fraught with generational divide, particularly when it comes to the interpretation of devotion to Islam, are nevertheless loving, the bond between mother and daughter sturdy. Emna’s sister, with three rambunctious young children scurrying about, also comes into play, but it feels like a side note compared to the mother-daughter relationship at the heart of Coming Around (★★★☆☆).
A fly on the wall, Itäinen captures some remarkably intimate moments, but the film drags for the first 40 minutes as Emna struggles with her own identity as a queer woman to the point of tedium. Eventually, she begins dating a man, and her personal journey takes surprising turns.
It’s unclear — to us and even to Emna — if she is trying to force herself into a mold expected of her or if she is truly bisexual, even to the point where she wonders if she’s beset by “imposter syndrome.” The movie inevitably frames a possible answer to this question in one of its most emotionally devastating moments.
Visually, the documentary is the equivalent of silk; it’s both tonally and texturally rich. Cinematographer Uwa Iduozee masterfully contrasts the grimy, neon vibrancy of New York with the muted, bland starkness of the Midwest, the contrast serving to further the point of Eman’s two separate lives.
Coming Around is less a coming-out story than it is, as the title suggests, a paean to acceptance for both daughter and mother, and if it shortchanges us on one critical scene, it at least attempts to make up for it with a final encounter that is steeped in serenity, authenticity, and love.
Coming Around plays on Sunday, Oct. 22, at 1 p.m. at The Eaton.
Live screenings of Reel Affirmations films are Oct. 20 to 22 at the Eaton Hotel, 1201 K St. NW, in Washington, D.C.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29. Of the 43 films, 26 are available only online.
For a full schedule of films, including retrospective showings, all pricing and pass options, and party information, visit www.thedccenter.org/reelaffirmations.
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