Directed by Belgian brother duo Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Young Ahmed (Le Jeune Ahmed) is a film that has been surrounded by a deep layer of controversy ever since its announcement to compete at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival — due to its contentious subject matter. The film follows Ahmed (played by Idir Ben Addi) an incredibly young and therefore questionable teenager who has devoted his life to his religion —ultimately becoming groomed and radicalized into actions far more significant than himself. Following the words of his elder and believing his Arabic female teacher, Inès (played by Myriem Akheddiou) to be an infidel, he hatches a plan to murder her in cold blood.
Young Ahmed is problematic — the intentions are vague, but undoubtedly, the execution and thematic tendencies skew beyond belief. It is ultimately fortifying a message that it is trying to condemn. Alternatively, you’re led to believe this because in facts it’s never actually clear what the Dardenne brothers are trying to convey with such a film. On the surface, of course, Young Ahmed is the condemnation of a jihadist movement, yet underneath the surface bubbling away is a less convincing notion of being expressive for the sole reason to shock — without due thought process to provide an inkling of layers of depth. Nobody is expecting answers for such heinous acts, but the film doesn’t even want to explore Ahmed in a character study, nor to discover the corrosive nature of this extremist religion that has infected his life. In particular, his home, as the relationship between mother, brother, and sister are exercised for fractions of the films incredibly short running time of eighty-four minutes.
As you may have already guessed the screenplay is paper thin with little development of character or narrative to keep, the audience invested. It’s a shame because the plot is rife with a detailed examination of the challenges and condition of grooming, single parents, a minority, and more. Theirs so much here that is just raring to be explored, but it all falls to the wayside to craft something instead that sadly perpetuates the myth that all Muslims are bad inherently. It shouldn’t come to much surprise that two old white males would direct a film like this that contextually follows such a dark religious undertone that Young Ahmed has some form of agenda, and while it isn’t overly forceful in its voice, it most certainly doesn’t fight such a subtextual driven narrative by any means.
Sadly with such a sorrid screenplay, the performances are incredibly muddled. Much of the actors do what they can with the material they have . Especially that of Idir Ben Addi who is ultimately strangled with the little to no substance needed to express a real person. His performance is, therefore, far too stoic and robotic for the audience to find any form of emotional construct that feels compelling — highlighting how grossly inadequate the screenplay truly is. There is only one scene in the films third act in which we see a snippet of emotion or human instinct from the character of Ahmed, in which the character of Louise (played by Victoria Bluck) is tormenting him with a strand of wheat. An improvised and out of character moment by all intents and purposes but an incredible sequence nonetheless. It’s a charming petite snippet that opens up the film with a slight bit of warmth and - almost - opens the character up but as soon as it starts it is already gone, and we’re back to square one in which Ahmed is a monster. The whole film feels like an agenda to discredit and attack a group of people because of their ethnicity and race. Young Ahmed is a profoundly inappropriate and misaligned feature that causes far more issues than it even attempts to solve.
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