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'Fatima': Review

Dir/scr: Philippe Faucon. France/Canada, 2014. 79 min.

Like many of his earlier works, Philippe Faucon’s praiseworthy Fatima tackles the fate of North African immigrants desperately trying to find their place in a French society which seems less than enthusiastic to acquire them with open arms or on equal terms.

It is probably fair to assume that Faucon’s picture is closer to real life than most of the other, more violent portraits of integration, but this may also result in a less splashy response from movie audiences.

Born in Morocco and emotionally close to his roots, Faucon is not the first to tackle this issue, nor is Fatima the most original take. But this film is a notable addition which deserves attention if only because of its honest restraint - verging at times on the didactic - in dealing with issues that are too often allowed to explode, in movies as well as in real life, into ferociously uncontrollable fits of rage.

Fatima is inspired by the account of a Moroccan woman, Fatima Elayoubi, whose book, Prayer to the Moon, detailed her own experiences after she followed her husband to Europe in the 1980s.  As played by Soria Zeroual, she is shown devoting her entire life to her two daughters, hoping they will do better than she ever managed. Abandoned by her husband (Chawki Amari), who still hangs around to appease and care for the two daughters, she cleans homes and offices for a living.

Fatima will do anything to help her older daughter, Nesrine (Zita Hanrot) study medicine, but is often defeated by her turbulent younger one, Souad (Kenza Noah Aiche), who resists any attempt to calm the rebellious teenage revolt that she feels she is entitled to.

Fatima is separated from her daughters not only by the natural generation gap, but also by her veil that she will not surrender, her problems in mastering the French language and the social pressures which surround her. The conflicts between mother and daughters are  captured with a great degree of sensitivity,  never allowing them to become more than skirmishes that sooner or later fade away. The language barrier ultimately pushes Fatima into writing, in Arabic, on paper, all the emotions she has bottled inside due to the lack of a common language to share with her daughters.

Faucon, obviously very fond of all his characters, carefully avoids the patterns that many genre films fall into. There are no French characters to play the heavies and some of the immigrants are allowed to be uncomprehending, bitchy and envious.  It is probably fair to assume that Faucon’s picture is closer to real life than most of the other, more violent portraits of integration, but of course, this may also result in a less splashy response from a movie audience.

Additionally, Faucon’s insistence on working with performers of relatively little experience often results in touching moments followed by bouts of blank text recitations. Zaroual, a cleaning lady herself, looks perfect in the part, but is most effective when she does not have to deliver lines that are not hers. And the same is true, to a lesser degree, with the rest of the cast.

Production companies: Istiqlal Films, Possible Media, Arte France, Rhone-Alpes Cinema

International Sales: Pyramide Films (sales@pyramidefilms.com)

Producers: Yasmina Nini-Faucon, Philippe Faucon, Serge Noel

Screenplay: Philippe Faucon

Cinematography: Laurent Fenart

Editing: Sophie Mandonnet

Music: Robert-Marcel Lepage

Cast: Soria Zeroual, Zita Hanrot, Kenza Noah Aiche, Chawki Amari

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