Thursday, May 28, 2020

Movie Review: Young Ahmed

Young Ahmed *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.
Written by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.
Starring: Idir Ben Addi (Ahmed), Myriem Akheddiou (Inès), Victoria Bluck (Louise), Claire Bodson (La mère), Othmane Moumen (Imam Youssouf), Amine Hamidou (Rachid), Yassine Tarsimi (Abdel), Cyra Lassman (Yasmine), Frank Onana (Fouad), Laurent Caron (Mathieu), Annette Closset (Sandrine), Olivier Bonnaud (Caseworker).
The Dardenne brothers latest film, Young Ahmed, is nowhere near as good as their previous films – but it’s not really for the reason that made it so controversial at Cannes, and since its release. Those criticisms – that two, old white Frenchmen shouldn’t be making a movie focused on a young Muslim who becomes radicalized, is not without merit – because what would they really know about this person? But the more fundamental problem is that the Dardenne’s style doesn’t really lend itself to a portrait of this type of person. The Dardenne’s cinema has always been in the neo-realist vein, and it continues so here, but there style The Dardenne’s movies are usually about morally conflicted characters – and their style is to follow their protagonists, with their camera trained on them – often their face, sometimes the back of their head, as if they are trying to bore into their skull, and see what is there – see the thought process, the conflict inside. And with Young Ahmed, there just isn’t that much conflict. Ahmed is a young Muslim man, in his teens, who following the death of his father has come under the sway of a charismatic young Imam, who preaches Jihad. Ahmed’s plan is to target another Muslim – his teacher, Ines (Myriem Akheddiou), because at her homework Academy, she teaches modern Arabic, and not Quran Arabic. Ahmed isn’t please with his mother either – she drinks, she doesn’t wear the hijab, etc., and older sister, who he tells dresses like a slut, when really, she dresses like a normal teenager. There isn’t an abundance of growth in him either – his plan is foiled, he is sent to a program for troubled teens, but as soon as he is able, he is back on the Jihad path again. He has a one-track mind, so it isn’t particularly interesting to try and stare into it.
Now, of course, because the Dardenne’s are master filmmakers, Young Ahmed isn’t a horrible movie – but like their last film, The Unknown Girl, it just isn’t up to the standards they themselves have set with movies like Rosetta, The Son, L’Enfant, The Kid with a Bike or Two Days One Night. Here, they seem more resigned than anything else. They don’t really have answers as to how a kid like Ahmed becomes radicalized – he starts the movie when the process is already pretty much complete – nor how a liberal, Western democracy can reach him once that has happened. The system treats him with respect – he is sent to a nice place, where he is allowed to prey and practice his religion, where he is given a certain amount of freedom, and where rehabilitation, not punishment, is the goal. But even coming into contact with nice people his own age – like Louise (Victoria Bluck), who likes him almost immediately, doesn’t seem to be able to penetrate him. Louise flirts with him, and kisses him in a field one day – which really causes the only confusion in Ahmed we see the entire movie. He is conflicted – he likes Louise, he likes kissing her, etc. But his solution to the guilt and shame he feels for doing what he has done with her, is to try and convince her to convert to Islam – then his sin wouldn’t be as great. She, understandably, doesn’t agree.
The controversy around the movie is, I think, mostly unearned. The Dardenne’s are very clear about separating the faith of Islam, from those who take their faith, and turn it into violence. They allow a full spectrum of views, and Muslims, into the fray here – and that does require a certain view of extremism. The film does understand the type of young man who can become radicalized – those who are already hurt and angry, and looking for something to take all that hurt and anger out on. Unfortunately, I don’t think it ever really delves any deeper into Ahmed than that. The Dardenne’s are arguably the most empathetic of all modern filmmakers – but empathy requires understanding, and I don’t think they ever truly crack Ahmed. The end of the film also feels like a cheat.
The Dardenne’s remain among the best filmmakers in the world – you can see that even in their lesser films, and Young Ahmed may just be the weakest film the brothers have ever made. You can admire their intentions – and yes, their ambition here – and the film basically works on a scene by scene level – it just never quite adds up to anything more than that. Perhaps the basic criticism of the movie is right – that because the Dardenne’s could not, or at least do not, fully understand Ahmed, they shouldn’t have made a film about him.

No comments:

Post a Comment