Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Le Jeune Ahmed
Belgium/France, 2019. Les Films Du Fleuve, Archipel 35, France 2 Cinema, Proximus, Radio Television Belge Francophone, Canal+, Cine, France Televisions, Wallimage, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Eurimages, Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral Belge, Casa Kafka Pictures Movie Tax Shelter Empowered by Belfius. Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Cinematography by Benoît Dervaux. Produced by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Denis Freyd. Production Design by Igor Gabriel. Costume Design by Maira Ramedhan Levi. Film Editing by Marie-Helene Dozo, Tristan Meunier. Cannes Film Festival 2019.
Ahmed is on the verge of manhood and has taken to religion with the same obsessive fervour that his mother says he had for video games a month ago: now he is constantly taking instruction from his imam , never misses his ablutions and prayers and criticizes his mother for drinking alcohol and his sister for dressing “provocatively”. He has made himself a pure nuisance at home and is a concern for his teacher, who is giving him Arabic lessons and tries to tell him that his imam is drawing him into a kind of fundamentalism that she believes is all lies. Ahmed’s commitment to a very literal application of Islam leads him to a dangerous act that even his imam rejects, which then brings him into contact with Belgian law and sees him put in custody for juvenile criminals. The process of rehabilitation seems to be going well, his days are spent at a local farm and doing chores there, but is he starting to see the bigger picture, or is he just getting smarter at keeping his beliefs to himself until a more convenient time? The Dardennes skirt a dangerous subject in this film, risking the accusation of Islamophobia despite the fact that none of their previous films would ever suggest that they find anything alarming about foreigners arriving in Europe. It is the tension created by European countries having their claims of tolerance and inclusion tested by the demands for religious freedom in places that have embraced secularism in politics that is their concern, as well as the fact that those demonized as destabilizing intruders are usually forced to live in a lower economic situation. The emphasis here is on the young man’s own inability to apply what is he learning to the world around him, and on his using it as a way to salve his own personal wounds and his fears of the adulthood that approaches. Efficient and slick as all their best films, this one includes a few very tense sequences that build up Hitchcock-level tension, and despite a rather too-tidy ending is graced with all the subtle insight and smooth movement of their best works.