(director/writer: Dina Amer; screenwriter: Omar Mullick; cinematographer: Omar Mullick; editors: Keiko Deguchi/Jake Roberts; music: Danny Bensi/Chase Deso/Saunder Jurriaans; cast: Lorenza Grimaudo (Child Hasna Ait Boulahcen), Ilonna Grimaudo (Child Miriam Ait Boulahcen), Djino Grimaudo (Youssef), Mouna Soualem (Adult Hasna #1), Sabrina Ouazani (Adult Hasna #2), Dina Amer (Adult Hasna #3), Alexandre Gonin (Abdelhamid), Sana Sri (Amina); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dina Amer/Karim Amer/Elizabeth Woodward; Dedza/VICE/RYOT; 2021-USA/France/Egypt-in French & Arabic-English subtitles)

“The film could have used more facts and less fiction to bolster its arguments, even if it was still engrossing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The award winning French-Arab journalist, Dina Amer, makes her feature film directing debut in this probing true-life story dramatization, that she also co-writes with the film’s cinematographer, Omar Mullick.

After the deadly terrorist bombings in Paris, on November 2015, the French-Arab, Hasna Ait Boulahcenwas, was called “Europe’s first female suicide bomber.”

The press called her a terrorist, working for ISIS. Amer attempts to reclaim her humanity despite the complexity and risks of examining her messy damaged life.

The main question the filmmaker asks, one that’s ripped from the headlines of the day, is— Who was Hasna Ait Boulahcen? The assumed Moroccan-French suicide bomber was killed at age 26 in the aftermath of those Bataclan attacks. At the time of her death she was wearing an explosive vest. The terrorist explosion was set in an apartment block in Saint-Denis.

YRM tries to piece things together by working from when Hasna was a twentysomething, estranged from her younger sister Miriam, hanging out in nightclubs, selling drugs and meeting mostly abusive men. It will eventually take us to when she was an infant. And when necessary, it fictionalizes things.

While telling its sad story, it tells about the adult Hasna–portrayed by three different actresses, Mouna Soualem, Sabrina Ouazani and, the director herself, Dina Amer. We learn of  the problems she faced and how she was radicalized by an extremist cousin. While as a child, she lived in Paris, in an abusive immigrant home and for stealing was sent by the State to live in one of their foster homes. She never got over that her sister was placed in another home, and she has been searching for her identity ever since.

The sincere film tries hard to bring a message of reconciliation that cuts across racial and cultural lines (whether it succeeds or not depends on the viewer). Of course, in today’s social media, in our fractured diverse world, opinions are divided by race. Thereby this is not an easy film to judge if a peaceful message can ever get through and bring about some kind of harmony, as I don’t know how we can bring such a divided world together when it differs so much religiously and culturally. But either does the filmmaker know how to bring us together, who fatalistically points out how the Arab immigrant in the west is vulnerable to be radicalized.

The film could have used more facts and less fiction to bolster its arguments, even if it was still engrossing.

It played at the Venice Film Festival

A woman in a denim jacket and carrying a backpack is seen
        smoking while standing in a front of a red facade covered in
        political campaign posters and graffiti.

REVIEWED ON 12/25/2022  GRADE: B