Telling an alluring yet unsettling story, Young Ahmed depicts the unique tale of an adolescent named Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi), a seemingly innocent 13-year-old boy who, as the days go by, becomes increasing devoted to Islam, removing posters from his walls, disregarding his video games and endlessly obsessing over his prayer times. Deconstructing relationships with his friends, mother and teachers for their lack of understanding and respect for his beliefs, Ahmed acts in a devilish manner in the name of religion, slowly treading down a treacherous path of bloodthirstiness and, eventually, rehabilitation. Driven in his aims but restricted by society, there is little to hinder Ahmed’s internal ambition of his own Jihad, and a race against time begins for his likelihood of reformation.
The latest film from the award-winning Belgian filmmaking duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Young Ahmed explores themes and subject matter rarely delved into in modern cinema, choosing to examine the effects of religious miseducation on the young and vulnerable mind. Giving little away behind his bespectacled appearance and astounding features, Ahmed is presented as a fear-inducing teenager in this socially cognisant film, almost psychotic in his “man of few words” approach to life and boundless devotion to his religion. This is of course portrayed by some brilliant acting from 14-year-old Ben Addi, who makes his feature film career debut in a role far more challenging than others may expect from their first rodeo.
The subject matter is subtly hard-hitting, tackling religious and social issues unashamedly head-on. As a whole, the film certainly clicks together and exposes a a real-life issue, but there are moments when a greater level of substance and guidance is lacking. At times the narrative comes across as rushed, being caught up in the drama but leaving the unknowing viewer behind in its wake, choosing not to support them with dialogue to carrying them from the start to the finish line. Being in an elite club of famed filmmakers, you may expect the Dardenne brothers, who initially began their expeditions in narrative documentaries, to tick these boxes more solidly.
The filming is extremely naturalistic, using very little soundtrack and musical score whilst choosing to veer away from a stylistically over-compensatory approach to the storytelling, instead focusing on the sincerity of its story and the moral undertones that are melted into it. As the climax approaches, signs of a moral conundrum flash before the viewer’s eyes after a final scene of pulse-raising uncertainty, but ultimately the conclusion falls flat and unnecessarily clichéd, using exaggerated circumstances to bring separate fates together. Young Ahmed certainly leaves food for thought for the viewer, with thrills and drama phlegmatically inserted into a screenplay with deeper and more important matter, but strangely you find yourself wishing there was just something more to it.
Young Ahmed is released digitally on Curzon Home Cinema on 7th August 2020.
Watch the trailer for Young Ahmed here: