‘Four Daughters’ Review: A Gripping Metafiction About Radicalization

Late on in Kaouther Ben Hania’s compelling, formidable hybrid “Four Daughters,” Olfa Hamrouni — the movie’s focus, its fixation and its most charismatically contradictory character — strokes a purring, closely pregnant ginger cat. Sometimes, she tells us, a cat can be so scared for her infants that she eats them. It’s Olfa’s covert acknowledgement that her personal misguided protecting urge, solid by her arduous historical past with males and mom alike, may need contributed to her life’s nice, rupturing tragedy: when, in 2015, the elder two of her 4 ladies ran away to hitch ISIS. But it additionally recollects considered one of her earlier to-camera segments, when she described her daughters, as if shielding herself from the ache of the true with the language of fable, as having been “devoured by the wolf.” So which is it: Were Ghofran and Rahma, 16 and 15 on the time of their disappearance, eaten up by their cat-mother or consumed by the predatory wolves of non secular fundamentalism, cultural indoctrination, ISIS itself?

Of course, it’s neither one nor the opposite totally, which makes the type of “Four Daughters” — neither fiction, nor documentary; neither memoir, nor reportage — oddly becoming, even when it retains bumping up in opposition to Ben Hania’s oddly romanced filmmaking. Her strategy is, from the outset, Brechtian: The actual Olfa seems all through however can be performed by well-known Egyptian-Tunisian star Hend Sabri; her two remaining daughters, Eya and Taysir, play themselves; and the roles of pre-disappearance Ghofran and Rahma are carried out by actresses Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui respectively. As a further flourish, all of the male components, from Olfa’s husband to her lover Wissem to the police official who refuses to assist, are embodied by one actor, Majd Mastoura. It’s a hanging double-down on the notion that right here, whereas one lady may comprise such multitudes that she should be performed by two, all males are one man. A foul one. 

Often, Olfa, Eya and Taysir handle the digital camera immediately, both individually or collectively as a laughing, crying, squabbling household unit. At different instances, scenes from their remembered previous play out like documentary recreations, albeit with Olfa hovering within the background as a witness to her personal reminiscences. But virtually instantly it’s obvious that essentially the most emotive side of “Four Daughters” would be the means its girls work together with the actors in the course of the ostensibly unscripted moments. When “Ghofran” and “Rahma” are launched, mom and sisters are first excited, then just a little damaged, by the avatars’ similarities to the true factor. And most of the most illuminating, apparently self-revelatory moments for Olfa come when she’s speaking to her personal double, Sabri, who turns into as a lot confidante as inventive collaborator. Ben Hania’s goals are a lot broader than easy dramatization: “Four Daughters” can be a therapeutic train, and a commentary on the filmmaking course of itself. 

This final is the place “Four Daughters” is probably on shakiest floor. Metafictions are usually scrappy affairs, for the apparent motive that unscripted actuality hardly ever obeys the foundations of narrated drama. But Ben Hania can’t fairly suppress her aesthetic instincts towards shiny melodrama, which might lead us to query the spontaneity of even essentially the most overtly documentary-like segments. DP Farouk Laaridh employs a wealthy, saturated, unmistakably synthetic shade palette, and arranges even off-the-cuff interviews into cautious tableaux. When the digital camera spies on Sabri rehearsing her strains, a flattering, slatted directional gentle falls throughout her face simply so: These girls are all remarkably photogenic and it seems arduous to withstand their glamorization. Couple that with Amina Bouhafa’s elegant classical rating, filled with cello chords that take up residence in the midst of your chest, and the general polish of the package deal sits at odds with its angular, disruptive goals.

It hardly issues. “Four Daughters” might function higher on a scene-to-scene foundation than as a holistic narrative, however inside these particular person scenes there are plosive little puffs of perception which are generally provocative, generally shifting, and generally, unexpectedly, very humorous. Sabri and Mastoura corpsing when enjoying Olfa and her husband watching a romantic film that simply occurs to star… Hemd Sabri. Olfa relating the way in which she fooled the ready friends on her marriage ceremony night time into considering the wedding had been consummated by smearing the bedsheet with blood from her husband’s nostril — the one she had simply damaged. 

With so many shifting components, it’s arduous to isolate only one motive why Ben Hania’s movie — an enormous enchancment on her terminally uneven, unexpectedly Oscar-nominated “The Man Who Sold His Skin” — ought to show so gripping. Perhaps it’s the way in which it reveals Olfa as each sympathetic and repellent, charming and chilling. Perhaps it’s merely that we’re not used to seeing this overtly experimental an strategy utilized to a narrative in regards to the every day struggles of Arab girls in a majority-Islamic North African nation. Or maybe it’s simply that its structuring absences, and their motivations, stay so elusive: Whatever cathartic truths “Four Daughters” uncovers, others will all the time stay veiled.

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