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Fatima (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 23, 2020



FATIMA (2016)

Starring Soria Zeroual, Zita Hanrot, Kenza-Noah Aiche, Chawki Amari, Dalila Bencherif, Edith Saulnier, Corinne Duchesne, Emir El Guerfi, Zakaria Ali-Mehidi, Zahra Addioui, Nadia Hamied, Isabelle Candelier, Franck Andrieux, Christiane Laroche and Hélène Balazard.

Screenplay by Philippe Faucon.

Directed by Philippe Faucon.

Distributed by Kino Lorber.  78 minutes.  Not Rated.

It’s easy to forget in a country that favors movie sensationalism, sometimes the smallest stories can be just as fascinating as (or more than) loud, hyperactive blockbusters.  Fatima is a tiny film (only 78 minutes) about normal people, and yet it is frequently fascinating.

The title character (played with quiet strength by first-time actress Soria Zeroual) is a 40-something North African woman who has moved to Lyon, France (though she has not quite learned the language.)  She and her husband (Chawki Amari) have broken up in the time since they have emigrated, but he’s often in the background.  In the meantime, Fatima works as a cleaning lady to raise her two teen daughters.

The older girl is 18-year-old Nesrine (Zita Hanrot), a sweet and pretty girl who is completely immersed in her schoolwork, determined to get a medical degree to the point that she barely has any time for a personal life, and even less time for boys.  (There is a charming scene when a young boy tries to talk to her on a bus, but she tactfully blows him off because she is too busy studying.)

Her younger daughter, sullen 15-year-old Souad (Kenza Noah Aïche) is blossoming into sexuality and wants to be seen as a normal, modern French girl.  Souad is embarrassed by her mother’s servant job (referring to her mother petulantly as “a living rag”), her old-fashioned beliefs and her traditional Muslim garb (particularly the head scarf).

Not much happens, at least in terms of traditional action, we just see these three women trying to come to terms with a new life in a new country.  Interestingly, the film does not say why they came to France, nor how long they have been there, though it seems like it was probably at least a few years.  The daughters, unsurprisingly, have adapted to their new homeland much more naturally than their mother, adapting in the lifestyles, the fashions and the language.

Fatima still feels a bit of an outcast – whether it is because she loses the opportunity to rent an apartment simply because of her traditional headscarf, or when it seems her boss is testing her honesty by leaving Euros in the laundry – and yet she is willing to put up with almost any indignity as long as it means that her daughters have the opportunity for a better life.

Fatima won the Cesar (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Picture of the Year, and while I would not go quite that far, it is a very fine little slice of life.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: August 25, 2016.

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