Cast includes: Soria Zeroual, Zita Hanrot (Eden), Kenza Noah Aïche
Writer/Director: Philippe Faucon (Dans la vie, Samia)
Genre: Drama (80 minutes) French and Arabic with subtitles
“You’re such a scaredy cat.” “The neighborhood feels unsafe,” says Fatima. There’s a bar downstairs… it’s dark and noisy… hardly the ideal apartment for her 18-year-old daughter, Nesrine, who’s starting college. It turns out not to matter because when the lady comes to show the apartment, she claims she forgot the key. “So we came for nothing?” Out on the street, Fatima’s younger daughter, Souad, picks up the thread of an ongoing issue she has with their mom… “Told you the head scarf would bring bad luck.” In France, many people don’t even pretend to be tolerant of religious dress, such as the hijab. Nesrine might have to look at apartments without her mom next time. “I’m sick of this stupid life,” rebellious Souad later complains. “You have a roof over your head, food, clothes… You should thank God,” Fatima tells her. “You can’t even speak French. You make a living cleaning for other people,” Souad shouts.
“Soon you won’t even recognize us,” a neighbor says to Fatima… “now that you have a daughter in college.” Fatima hardly feels like a success story. She simply carries on trying to provide for her two daughters… like today, starting a new cleaning job. When she finds €10 in a pocket, she dutifully gives it back to her new employer, though she could certainly use the money. Even with the extra work, she still has to sell her last few pieces of jewelry to help Nesrine with school expenses. Nesrine is a good girl… hard working, respectful and she never asks her mom for anything more than what she absolutely needs. Souad, on the other hand, likes to push the limits. She wants to dress like the other girls in school, even though Fatima cautions her… “People will talk.” Souad wants to go out with Sélim, even though Fatima tells her, “I know the family and they’re not respectable.” And at this rate, Souad will have a hard time getting into college with the poor marks she’s bringing home. “If you don’t do your work, you’ll end up a cleaner like your mother.” “You wouldn’t understand,” Souad yells at her. Yet Fatima is trying very hard to understand. At the parent-teacher meeting, she mostly just listens because her French isn’t good enough to feel comfortable speaking.
“I’m going to have to learn to speak and read,” Fatima decides. Fatima is a beautifully nuanced film about life for people who carve out a life in the spaces in between… in between the life they left behind and the new culture they need to acclimate to, in between hardship and small successes. Not only do we see the contrast between Fatima and her two daughters… but even within the Moroccan immigrant community, there are conflicts and petty jealousies. Everyone came to France for a better life… some progress faster than others… some are happy for others; some aren’t. In the meantime, Fatima only wants to do what’s right for her family… happy in the knowledge that even small progress is still progress. This gentle story is beautifully matched with the filmmaking style, which is natural and understated, using actors you probably haven’t seen before. In its quiet way, it gives us much to think about. Fatima’s French teacher encourages her to write and in doing so, she gives beautiful expression to her feelings. She talks about the anger of a child with a parent. She wants to tell that child, “Be proud of all the Fatimas who clean working women’s homes.”
4 popped kernels
Muslim immigrant mother struggles to give her two daughters a better life
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Immigrant story
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking