Directors – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 2019 – Belgium, France – 85m
Exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 7th
Belgian teenager Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) is having problems with his teacher Miss Inès (Myriem Akheddiou). As he sees it, she disrespects his Muslim faith. His life timetable is governed by the time table of not, as you might expect, his school but his mosque. He must attend prayers at a specific time. Actually, his teacher and school are more than accommodating of these demands, but that’s not how Ahmed sees it.
He has long and deep discussions with his local Imam, Youssouf (Othmane Moumen), a radical jihadist and frankly a pretty creepy individual. Ahmed looks up to and trusts him. More than he does his teacher who he accuses on various occasions of betraying the faith, having a Jewish boyfriend and being an infidel. (Incidentally, this being a French language movie the word ‘infidel’ has a direct meaning of ‘unfaithful’ in that language, something I’ve never noticed before.) More than he does his mother (Claire Bodson) who he berates for having the occasional drink or two. It doesn’t help that he seems to regard women and girls as unclean and inferior.
Encouraged by Imam Youssouf, Ahmad and a less than willing mate address and harass Miss Inès at a local public meeting where she’s extolling the dual virtues of learning Arabic through song and the Quran. (Ahmed and his Imam consider that songs debase the faith and that Arabic should be learned through the Quran alone.) Later, armed with a blade concealed in his sock, he visits her at her apartment and attempts to kill her.
This puts him into the state detention system and community service on a farm. He is required to see a psychologist (again, a woman) to prove that his attitude is changing / has changed. He begins to convince her. But underneath, he still wishes to kill his teacher.
Shot in the Dardenne brothers’ matter-or-fact, non-sensationalist style, the film sometimes meanders and lacks focus while at others it seems spot on. The narrative is anchored by a mundane ordinariness about everything that happens.
Ahmed is a typical teenager, thinking he knows it all and everything is simple when in fact he’s being programmed and manipulated by the Imam and every one but him can see it. His teacher and when he’s doing community service his caseworkers all go out of their way to respect his religious beliefs, at least insofar as those beliefs are not radicalised.
Louise (Victoria Bluck) a worker on the farm takes a romantic interest in Ahmed, but when she asks to and starts to kiss him (in French, the verb ‘baiser’ can mean kiss but is also slang for screwing) he his horrified. He later tells her he won’t attempt a relationship unless she converts, which being a run-of-the-mill atheist she refuses to do.
All adults were teenagers once and know what a strange time adolescence can be and how outside influences can affect teens and take hold. This little film convincingly takes us into the mind of an ordinary Belgian Muslim boy who has fallen under an extremist influence far from representative of the best of that religion. In his dealings with the opposite sex in particular, these extremist views are shown up as deeply inadequate.
Ahmed’s tragedy, so brilliantly represented in the film’s unexpected finale, is that of the well-intentioned idealist subscribing to fanatical and dangerous beliefs that ultimately benefit no-one and nothing.
Young Ahmed is out exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 7th.