Wednesday, May 22, 2024

2024 Cannes Marathon: Young Ahmed


(Winner of the Best Director Prize to Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Le Jeune Ahmed (Young Ahmed) is the story of 13-year-old Muslim student who plots to kill his teacher after embracing a radicalized version of the Quran. The film is an exploration a young Muslim living in Belgian as he feels abandoned where he seeks to kill a schoolteacher in the name of Allah. Starring Idir Ben Addi, Olivier Bonnaud, Myriem Akheddiou, Victoria Bluck, Claire Bodson, and Othmane Moumen. Le Jeune Ahmed is a rich and somber film from the Dardenne Brothers.

The film revolves around a 13-year-old Belgian-Muslim student who has become radicalized by his local imam who convinces him that his schoolteacher is an apostate prompting him to kill her in the name of Allah. It is a film that explores a boy living in small working-class town in Belgium with a mixture of races and religions as he is embracing the radical ideas of his imam through a radicalized version of the Quran. The screenplay by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is straightforward in its narrative despite not having much plot in favor of studying the film’s titular character (Idir Ben Addi) and his actions where he would be sent to a juvenile detention center as he comes into conflict with the way the center approaches him in a non-confrontational manner. Even as he would collaborate with his caseworker at a farm as he tries to maintain his idealism but becomes troubled by his emotions and the pleas from his mother (Claire Bodson) to change his ways and forget the teachings of his local imam (Othmane Moumen).

The direction of the Dardenne Brothers is entrancing for its simplicity as it is shot on location in Wallonia, Belgium with hand-held cameras. While there are a few wide shots in the film, much of the direction is intimate through the usage of close-ups and medium shots that play into the style that the Dardenne Brothers are known for that is like cinema verité. Even as the Dardenne Brothers play into this world of Islam where Ahmed is devoted to as he is a Muslim, yet he is upset that his schoolteacher Miss Ines (Myriem Akheddiou) who wants to teach basic Arabic to kids in preparation when they grow up and such as well as make it accessible. It is an idea that upsets both Ahmed and his imam as the latter urges him to act although the former mistakes his rhetoric as an act of jihad. The incident would put Ahmed in the detention center as he is given time to pray as he would often carry the Quran in a plastic Ziploc bag whenever he goes somewhere such as a farm.

At the farm, he meets a young girl in Louise (Victoria Bluck) who is interested in him though she confuses Ahmed. Especially as he is someone that is trying to maintain a sense of purity for himself hoping to be embraced by Allah. The Dardenne Brothers go to great lengths as it relates to Ahmed’s confusion where he steals a toothbrush from the farm to create a shiv, but things do not go well despite his claims that he has changed. The direction does showcase a world where Ahmed expects to be abused and such, but it isn’t anything like that as the film’s final moments play into him wanting to prove himself to Allah, but he’s filled with a lot of conflict over what he’s being taught but also what the Quran really teaches. Overall, the Dardenne Brothers craft an evocative and engaging film about a 13-year-old Muslim boy from Belgium trying to kill his schoolteacher to prove himself to Allah.

Cinematographer Benoit Dervoux does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is straightforward in its approach to natural lighting in the daytime interior/exterior settings and usage of available light for some of the interior scenes at night. Editors Marie-Helene Dozo and Tristan Meunier do excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with a few jump-cuts to play into some of the drama. Production designer Igor Gabriel and art director Paul Rouschop do fantastic work with the look of the classrooms that Ahmed goes to as well as the home he lives with his family and some of the interiors at the farmhouse. Costume designer Maira Ramedhan Levi does nice work with the costumes as it is casual with many of the young kids wearing tracksuits or loose clothing apart from a few scenes at the imam’s church where everyone is wearing a robe.

Visual effects supervisor Guillaume Pondard does terrific work with a few of the film’s visual effects scenes as it is set dressing on a few bits including the film’s climax. The sound work of Julien Sicart and sound editor Valene Leroy is superb for its sound as a lot of it is captured on location to maintain a sense of realism that also includes a scene in a car where the lone music piece played on film is a song by the Intergalactic Lovers while a classical piece by Franz Schubert that is played in the film’s final credits.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Cyra Lassman as Ahmed’s older sister Yasmine, Amine Hamidou as his brother Rachid who is also radicalized, Karim Chihab as a counselor at the detention center, and Olivier Bonnaud as a sympathetic caseworker who tries to help Ahmed while not wanting to stray Ahmed from his faith. Victoria Bluck is fantastic as Louise as a farmer’s daughter who works at the farm as she befriends Ahmed while also trying to understand him through a simple act of affection. Claire Bodson is excellent as Ahmed’s mother who is aghast about his newfound radicalism as she tries to get him to steer back into his innocence, feeling he is becoming a danger to himself and everyone around him.

Othmane Moumen is brilliant as Ahmed’s imam Youssouf who is a radical that believes that Islam is being threatened as is everything Ahmed is trying to maintain in his faith where he would suggest going into extremism as he is really an evil figure distorting the ideas of Islam. Myriem Akheddiou is amazing as Miss Ines as Ahmed’s schoolteacher who is troubled by Ahmed’s radicalism as she is also a Muslim but is hoping to make it more accessible for everyone including children so they can maintain their identity. Finally, there’s Idir Ben Addi in a phenomenal performance as Ahmed as this 13-year-old Belgian-Muslim kid who becomes radicalized as he is eager to prove himself to his imam and Allah by killing his teacher only to be sent to a detention center. It is a subdued performance from the young actor who expresses someone that is determined to complete his task but is also filled with confusion and anguish over the ways of the world.

Le Jeune Ahmed is a sensational film from the Dardenne Brothers. Featuring a great ensemble cast, naturalistic visuals, and a riveting character study of a young boy being radicalized into killing his teacher. It is a film that explores a youth being lost and pulled in many directions while he is intent on completing a task in the name of religion only to realize that the world is far more complicated with hate being the catalyst for this complication. In the end, Le Jeune Ahmed is a phenomenal film from the Dardenne Brothers.

Dardenne Brothers Films: (Falsch) – (I Think of You) – La Promesse - Rosetta - Le Fils - L'Enfant - To Each His Own Cinema-Darkness - Lorna's Silence - The Kid with a Bike - Two Days, One Night - The Unknown Girl - Tori & Lokita

© thevoid99 2024


Brittani Burnham said...

This sounds very heavy. I'll have to see if it's streaming anywhere. I'm intrigued.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It's currently streaming on MUBI along with 2 other films by the Dardenne Brothers in The Unknown Girl (which I will do next) and Two Days, One Night w/ Marion Cotillard.