- Katherine McLaughlin
- 24 May 2019
Cannes 2019: Disappointing radicalisation drama from the Dardenne brothers
Celebrated Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers weave a flimsy social realist yarn about a radicalised Muslim teenager who is fixated on killing his teacher. Over a period of weeks, Ahmed's mother (Claire Bodson) notices drastic changes in her son's behaviour, a boy who was once happy playing video games in his bedroom. However, since meeting an extremist imam (played by Othmane Moumen), Ahmed's disgust with the western world has risen to dangerous levels.
Idir Ben Addi plays the inscrutable and frustrating Ahmed with a stony expression. He's a classic moody teen who shouts at his mother and is confused by his emotions, but his rage at impurity when it comes to issues like alcohol consumption and the way his sister dresses sets him apart. As does the fact that he holds his martyred cousin up on a pedestal, longing to join him in death through an act of violence.
The Dardennes focus on Ahmed's support network, including Inès (Myriem Akheddiou), the teacher who tirelessly devoted her time to help him with his dyslexia. He's hell-bent on killing her over her unorthodox method of using music to teach Arabic. Yet such supporting characters feel highly constructed, and their dialogue is rarely convincing. A teenage girl's crush on Ahmed is perplexingly dealt with, existing simply to show off Ahmed's desires and willpower, and to initiate an implausible discussion about marriage and religious conversion. While no doubt intended to impart knowledge on the strict rules for Muslim dating, it comes across as contrived.
When Ahmed is moved to a detention centre after an attempted murder (an act that happens early on), the film follows a classic redemptive arc. Reliance on clichés, an absurd shank-whittling scene and the brothers revisiting a moment from one of their earlier films in the denouement removes much of the tension as the story draws to a close.
Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2019. General release TBC.