Sitting among the New York critics at a screening of Young Ahmed, a film about Islam
The press screenings for the New York Film Festival have begun, and on Monday I screened a new film by the Dardenne brothers. The film, called Young Ahmed, isabout a teenage boy trying to embrace radical Islam. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are considered the “Coen brothers of Europe,” and we published a feature last year on their spiritually infused films.
Many of the films the Dardennes write and produce focus on the relationship between fathers and sons. Often they focus on middle-school-age boys struggling with their identity. In Young Ahmed,our middle-school protagonist’s father is absent, and his mom sighs at one point that Ahmed wouldn’t be running after extremist ideologies if his father were around. It’s a fascinating and complex film, and fits in just right with the Dardennes’ other films about boys with absent fathers, such as The Kid With a Bike.
But at the end of the New York screening, the (white) critic in front of me dismissed the film as a portrayal of Islam from “problematic white men.” Another reviewer afterward called it a “hateful, duplicitous little movie” full of “toxic Islamophobia.” That misses completely, I think, the religious nuance of what the Dardennes are doing here—their films tell the spiritual stories of Belgium, not just Catholic Belgium. And Young Ahmed depicts many different strains of Islam if the grouchy critics would pay closer attention.
But I shouldn’t be surprised if the New York reception of the film is overly political or self-righteous. What the Dardennes gave us is another philosophical pinprick about our own identities: our perceived righteousness and need for forgiveness.
Chantal Akerman was born on June 6, 1950 in Brussels, Belgium as Chantal Anne Akerman. She was a director and writer, known for Je Tu Il Elle (1974), A Couch in New York (1996) and The Meetings of Anna (1978). She was married to Sonia Wieder-Atherton. She died on October 5, 2015 in Paris, France.
Her album has gone two-times platinum in France, she’s the only Belgian singer to beat Stromae’s record for most weeks at the top of the Belgian singles chart, and she’s only just getting started in her career. Angèle is a singer-songwriter and musician spinning heads all across Francophone nations with her unique voice. Her songs have become millennial-girl anthems because of her sincerity, sweet disposition, and entertaining videos.
At just 23 years old, the singer has already developed a very recognizable style. Her music is easy listening, her videos are funny, and the genuine nature and authenticity play a huge role in her popularity. For example, the cover of her first album Brol is a little girl smiling to show that her baby teeth have fallen out. For this kind of bluntness and plenty of Instagram videos of poking fun at herself, Angèle has become the singer du jour.
Like a modern-day Françoise Hardy, Angèle depicts a certain innocent reality in her songs. “Tout Oublier,” featuring her rap-artist brother Roméo Elvis, broke a whole slew of records on Belgian singles charts, winning the artist awards and recognition. With an existential vibe the song features a questioning of the simplicity or complication of happiness — a message resonates with Angèle’s audience (and most millennials these days).