Tuesday, 22 August 2017

AFS Screening: Fatima (Philippe Faucon, 2015)

In a break from the classic Hollywood of my last couple AFS reviews, here's something more contemporary.

Fatima (Soria Zeroual) is an immigrant from Algeria. She works all day as a cleaner while looking after her daughters. Fatima struggles to balance her commitments while trying to better her situation by taking French classes. Nesrine (Zita Hanrot) is a medical student, struggling with her studies and the pressures of her mother's generation, who think she is above them. Meanwhile, Fatima's younger daughter Souad (Kenza Noah Aiche) is rebelling at school. She feels embarrassed about her mother's status and inability to fit in. Events come to a head.
I had never heard of this movie before, and the awards plastered on its poster, made me think it was going to be typical Oscar-bait fare, an overly important drama about a social issue that manages to miss the mark (e.g The Help). Thankfully it was nothing like that.
A movie about people trying to connect with each other, despite cultural and language barriers. It is filtered through a coming-of-age frame, as Fatima tries to contend with her daughters and their growing pains. Each generation are separated by culture and language; while they attempt to make inroads (the girls are as shaky with Arabic as Fatima is with French), this divide is widened every time the family hits a speed bump (Souad skipping class).

What I really liked about Fatima was that it did not build to a major 'movie' crisis - no one died or got into crime. These people are going through everyday problems and issues. The filmmakers recognise that these problems are enough drama, when the main character who is still negotiating a new language and culture.

In the lead role, Soria Zeroual is very stoic and reserved. She does not get any big moments that you would see in a trailer (or at an awards ceremony). Fatima is a woman stuck in a place where she does not feel comfortable, and Zeroual's performance embodies that sense of bafflement and dislocation. There is a quiet pathos to her portrayal that grows throughout the picture.

As her daughters, Hanrot and Aiche are also good, but their roles are more tangential.

Stylistically the movie is unadventurous, but it works for the story. Faucon makes good use of focus and mise-en-scene to isolate Fatima within the frame. The only times she is in a secure position is in her apartment - whenever she is out of this comfort zone, she is either stuck behind other characters or framed in closeup with other characters out of focus behind her (the parent-teacher conference is particularly strong example of this visual strategy).

I generally try to make these reviews a bit longer, but I do not have much to say about this one. Watching it as someone without the cultural context of either being Algerian or French, there is probably some things I am missing. 

If I have one note, it is that the movie is so short that I wanted more. On the other hand, I also have no idea what could be added.

There you have it. Fatima, an award-winning drama that won't make you want to jump out a window.

Previous AFS reviews

Purple Noon (2015)

The Servant 

Eyes Without A Face 

Night of the Demon (2016)

Grand Central

Tales of Hoffman

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