DIRECTOR: LUC & JEAN-PIERRE DARDENNE
CAST: OLIVIER BONNAUD, IDIR BEN ADDI, MYRIEM AKHEDDIOU
CERTIFICATE TBC; 90 MINUTES
FRANCE 2019; ENGLISH SUBTITLES
CURZON HOME CINEMA
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
The futility of circumstances in Young Ahmed (Le Jeune Ahmed), winner of Best Director at Cannes, directed by the Dardenne brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, is akin to a Greek tragedy. Fuelled with thoughts of “what if” and “if only” we witness fourteen-year-old Ahmed, a fatherless Muslim, swept along by a charismatic, radical Iman at the local mosque. Ahmed is just at that age when he needs to cut the apron strings with his modern mother who, to Ahmed’s dismay, drinks the occasional glass of wine and doesn’t wear a hijab. The timing is perfect for radicalisation.
The bulk of Ahmed’s consternation is directed at his Arabic teacher, a thought provoking, earnest French woman. Encouraged by the Iman to believe his teacher is untrue to Islam, he attempts to kill her, and ends up in juvenile detention and assigned to farm work. Throughout his sentence, Ahmed, stays true to his convictions, concealing his determination to kill the “apostate”.
At the farm he meets the farmer’s daughter Louise. Their attraction is mutual, but Ahmed resists Louise’s casual advances. According to his religious conscience, Ahmed suggests Louise convert to Islam in order to mitigate Ahmed’s crime – desire for a non-Muslim. Bemused, Louise shrugs him off. Why a young girl, the same age (perhaps 14) as Ahmed, is left alone with a young jihadist, only the French juvenile penal system can answer.
The young actors steal this film. Ahmed is played with detached precision by Idir Ben Addi whilst Victoria Bluck plays Louise with natural insouciance. The camera follows Ahmed throughout the film. The young actor behaves in a two-dimensional manner; his emotions are concealed; he is determined and cold. Somehow Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne manage to convey so much meaning and emotion from this detached performance.
Perhaps inadvertently, the gender division in Young Ahmed, is most striking. The men who safeguard Ahmed, most notably the prison warders and social workers tread a fine line between watching out for Ahmed’s delinquency and his well-being. But in the scheme of things, the male characters are side-lined, even the Iman who plays the catalyst.
Curiously, Ahmed’s fanatical retribution isn’t directed at men. Ahmed embraces the inherent misogyny critical to religious extremism, and yet, ironically, it is the women Ahmed needs most: his mother’s love and his teacher’s forgiveness. What is striking about Young Ahmed, is the caring and generous nature of the key women involved in this drama: Ahmed‘s mother, Ahmed’s Arabic teacher and Louise. In his time of need Ahmed realises the women, once loathed as apostates, are his redeemers. Ending with a long blackout before the credits roll and a haunting Schubert piano sonata, this realisation feels all the more poignant.