Young Ahmed (Le jeune Ahmed)
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s latest naturalistic drama caught a few raised eyebrows in the lead-up to Cannes. It’s because of its premise: a young Belgian boy, Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi), plans to murder his teacher (Myriem Akheddiou) because of her attitude towards his Islamic religion. The Dardennes are two white men in their 60s, and many rightly had their suspicions about whether these artists had any right to tackle such problematic subject matter. Having watched the film itself, it’s not that much clearer whether Young Ahmed is artistically bankrupt because of this, or whether its relative sensitivity and compelling moment-to-moment drama make for any kind of redeeming qualities.
The principles of Ahmed’s extremism are plausible enough; he’s missing a father, and the local Imam has taken him under his wing, instilling within him the tenets of the Qu’ran, which the boy follows to the letter. He’s apparently only been this way for a month, but he won’t touch women, and adheres to a punctual prayer schedule. His teacher wants to start a class that teaches Arabic using songs instead of scripture – which divides the Muslim community. Ahmed decides to take matters into his own hands. The tension throughout the rest of the film is whether he’ll realise his mistake, or continue down his extremist path.
No matter how sensitive their portrayal of the subject may be, the Dardennes’ regular approach – giving moral dilemmas an unforgiving, almost thriller-like urgency – means that the deck is entirely stacked against a religion and race other than their own. Ahmed is insufferable, because he’s a kid, and he’s taken the lessons of the Imam too seriously. The white people around him – the adults, social workers, even a young farm girl (Victoria Bluck) – basically have the purity of saints, because of the Dardennes’ economy of storytelling. They only tell us what we need to know in order to make each situation tense and revealing of character; they set up obvious solutions to scenes, only to go in a different direction entirely.
This kind of rigidness isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it’s in the service of a worthy dilemma, such as Marion Cotillard trying to unite her co-workers against the forces of capitalism in Two Days, One Night – and wounds tight at 85 minutes. Young Ahmed is never less than watchable. But the problems are inherent to the premise itself. It’s up to the viewer to decide if they’re deal breakers.
Young Ahmed (Le jeune Ahmed) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer and a clip from Young Ahmed (Le jeune Ahmed) here: