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Thread: YOUNG AHMED/LE JEUNE AHMED (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne 2019)

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    YOUNG AHMED/LE JEUNE AHMED (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne 2019)



    A young Muslim fanatic in Belgium becomes a difficult protagonist for the Dardenne brothers

    Equal amounts of annoying and disturbing, this latest film from the Dardenne brothers might be seen as taking on risky material by focusing on a very young Muslim fanatic, a chubby, bespectacled teenager who falls under the sway of a young Muslim cleric at a local mosque who doesn’t hesitate to express his intolerant views. In Dardenne terms, this could be seen as an example of very bad mentoring. Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) never seems to have any mind of his own. On the one hand this may appear to Muslims to be an unfair picture, from outtrsider observers who aren't fully informed. On the other hand, from our point of view, fanatics at best aren’t interesting; they have nowhere to go, nothing to learn. They lack the fundamentals of good fiction, character development, the willingness to change. (This can be seen in the recent Israeli film about the killer of Itzhad Rabin, Incitement. The assassin, Yigal Amir, is a lot more intelligent, also charismatic, in his one-track way, but he has nowhere to go.)

    When Ahmed attacks a woman the cleric has called an “apostate” the cleric makes clear he didn’t mean it was okey to kill her. Ahmed lives in a French-speaking community. There’s some doubt about how well he or any of the local Muslims of this town know the language of the Qur’an, Arabic. This is a pivotal point. The women Ahmed attacks is “guilty” of teaching Arabic (and even Qur’an terminology) through accessible material. This doesn’t fit into the cleric’s rigid world. Too bad: it would make his worshippers more literate in the language of both the Prophet and the modern Arab world (two idioms far closer than we can imagine from the Anglophone point of view).

    As we see Ahmed, he is wholly wrapped up in simple rituals, his ablutions and his rigid observation of the traditional Muslim five prayers a day at stated intervals which nowadays can be turned to a phone app. All Ahmed’s life revolves around this. Probably a big cause of this refuge in obsession and negativity is the absence of a father in the house. He follows the intolerance he has learned, believing a terrorist is a sacred martyr and condemning his mother for drinking wine and choosing not to wear a hijab, and calling his sister a "slut" for dressing casually.
    Yet he is still a boy: he loves his mom. He is skittish around women, girls, and dogs. In fact, he may not see the difference.

    Ahmed can’t bear to touch animals at first, and has to watch when he’s been licked by a dog because of a Tradition that says dog saliva is unclean.

    This is modern, tolerant, enlightened Europe, so when Ahmed attempts to kill the lady, he is incorporated into a program of work-rehab on an animal farm, with a caseworker and a psychologist. Is he learning? That is something we can’t really say, even at the end. Every gesture of reconciliation and apology we get from him seems a ploy to set him up to attack the woman again and achieve the dire result he wanted. Instead of learning humility and sympathy, maybe what Ahmed is learning is just that to be a good terrorist, you have to be patient and lie convincingly.

    On the surface this may offer the kind of intense rush ending in resolution that the Dardennes usually provide. But Young Ahmed feels concluded in a rush, with a final scene of dialogue that’s so brief it’s ambiguous. Again, is the boy changed and repentant, or just forced to regroup and bide his time? Young Ahmed is admirable for its intense minute-to-minute specificty, as all the Dardennes' films are, but it has an unwieldy protagonist, opaque, uninteresting, and difficult to identify with, so much so as to be outright foolish and dislikable. And unlike Yigal Amir, who killed Itzhak Rabin, he doesn't seem particularly smart. But he is smarter than he has learned to behave.

    Le jeune Ahmed (Young Ahmed), 90 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition May 2019 and it won them the Best Director award; 13 other international festivals, including the NYFF. French release May 22, 2019, AlloCiné press rating 3.7. US theatrical release Feb. 21, 2020. Screened for this review at Quad Cinema Feb. 6, 2020. Metascore 66%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-27-2020 at 10:15 PM.


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