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.
Netflix’s new fish-out-of-water comedy about a European megastar who relocates to Los Angeles is a strange kind of failure.
There are moments during Huge in France when you can perceive what the show might have been—a semi-satirical, semi-screwball comedy about the acute insanity of modern-day fame. The new eight-part Netflix series exists in a meta universe similar to HBO’s Entourage, in that it’s loosely based on the real experiences of an actor and comedian, Gad Elmaleh. The plight of the show’s Gad (he refers to himself in the third person, alors, c’est vraiment Gad) is that he’s a huge star. In France. In real life, this is also true for Elmaleh, who by most metrics is a bona fide celebrity: He has 1.8 million Instagram followers, he once sold out Paris’s Olympia theater for a record-breaking seven consecutive weeks, and his former partner is the granddaughter of Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly. In France, Elmaleh is Jerry Seinfeld. In America, though? If a celebrity lands in a city where no one has ever heard of him, does he make a sound? Continue reading “Netflix’s ‘Huge in France’ Is Almost Great”→
These reunions with the happy band of “Little handkerchiefs”, we waited with some impatience. While fearing that the charm operates less nine years later. And that’s what happens. Blame it on a lazy scenario.
Max (François Cluzet) is spinning bad cotton. Depressed, ruined, he is preparing to sell his holiday home quietly, without talking to his ex (Valerie Bonneton). But for the discretion, it’s missed: it’s right the moment that the band of friends lost sight of for years has chosen to come and celebrate his birthday and seal the reunion. Discomfort.
They are all there, a little older, a little thick for some … Vincent (Benoît Magimel), Marie (Marion Cotillard), Eric (Gilles Lellouche), Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot) … Only Ludo, gone in the first part, misses the call. But Jean Dujardin will still give us a little wink at the end of the film.
Josephine Mackerras’ microbudget debut is a showcase for actress Emilie Piponnier.
The opening minutes of “Alice” make the case for Emilie Piponnier to be a movie star, and the rest of the movie keeps it up. As the eponymous centerpiece of the 2019 SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner, Piponnier dominates every frame, with a mesmerizing screen presence that pushes the drama well beyond its formulaic premise and visible microbudget constraints. Nevertheless, French director Josephine Mackerras’ understated debut operates on the same intimate wavelength as Piponnier’s simmering desperation — and, eventually, her newfound sense of pride — as a woman who becomes a sex worker to support her child. That premise may not change the world, but “Alice” succeeds as a sturdy window into one woman’s quest to take control of her oppressive world. If a festival breakout narrative counts for anything, it should advance the careers of the women on both sides of the camera.
At first, Alice maintains a cozy domestic life with her husband Francois (Benjamin Bourgois) and their young son. But Francois, a struggling writer, shows hints of dissatisfaction over dinner party conversation, and those seeds come to fruition moments later, when he vanishes with all of the money she’s inherited from her mother. In an abrupt exchange with an unsympathetic loan officer, Alice learns the awful truth: Her husband has burned through their finances on a prostitution addiction, leaving her without the proper funds to pay her mortgage. The bank gives her two weeks to figure out a plan.