YOUNG AHMED Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
Opens Fri, March 6 at Laemmle Royal Theatre11523 Santa Monica Blvd, California
I had no expectations sitting down to watch Young Ahmed but when the film was over I was left with feelings of a sense of deep sadness for so many young people who are swayed by religious beliefs. In Young Ahmed(played by first-time actor Idir Ben Addi) living in a small Belgian town is being radicalized by his Iman despite his mother’s disapproval.
Things don’t get better at school when his dedicated and caring teacher Ines (played by Myriem Akheddiou) proposes to teach Arabic. This sends Ahmed in a downward spiral of hate and it is made worse when he tells her that she shouldn’t teach Arabic and making it worse she is dating a jew. The passion in Young Ahmed is commendable but frightening especially when he has no tolerance for anything or anyone unless they conform to his ideologies. Like any good film, the pacing and tension keep you on the edge of your seat. You know something bad is going to happen. And when it does and the way he plans his intent is even more terrifying and unexpected. When we watch him plant a knife in his hidden spot and prepares to kill Ines it is a riveting scene and truly disturbing. Like any good thriller, you are kept in heightened anticipation wondering who is next and when.
Young actor Idir Ben Addi brings just the right amount of innocence and youthful exuberance to his role showing us the sweet anguish of a young man in turmoil. So I wonder what each audience member will make of the film’s ending. The film opens up so many questions about the pliability of the young mind and the power of adults to manipulate. But this film also makes one aware that radicalizing is not a phenomenon specifically focused on the young. In the case of Ahmed, we see a teenager at the most vulnerable time in his life. Budding sexuality where we can feel his confusion, fear, and desire when he meets Louise(Victoria Bluck) at the youth reform farm.
It’s a time when we are finding out who we are and how to navigate an adult world. It’s also a time when we are looking for others to emulate and respect outside of our family circle. So congratulations to the Dardenne Brothers for making a film that will inspire conversation and possibly empathy. And better still a film that makes any potential Young Ahmeds reflect on monumental life issues and decisions that can impact entire countries.
The Dardenne Brothers won this year’s Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival for this brave new work, another intimate portrayal-in-furious-motion of a protagonist in crisis. Taking a serious view of a difficult issue—the effect of fanaticism on the body and soul—the Dardennes here remind viewers why they continue to be at the center of 21st-century cinema. – New York Film Festival.