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Links to our other threads on the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne: La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son (Le Fils), L'enfant, Lorna's Silence; The Kid with a Bike; Two Days, One NightThe Unknown Girl.

The upcoming film from the Dardennes has a title: Ahmed. From this Screen Daily article about Wild Bunch acquiring it for distribution:

Quote

The Dardennes are also gearing up to shoot their eleventh joint feature Ahmed, a contemporary tale about a Belgian teenager who plots to kill his teacher after embracing an extremist interpretation of the Koran.

“It’s the tale of the radicalisation of a young boy in Belgium,” says Maraval. “A strong aspect of the script is the way it opens a debate around the interpretation of the Koran by a young kid under influence.”

The synopsis at the Wild Bunch website is similar: "Belgium, today, Ahmed, a young fanatic barely out of childhood, plans to kill his teacher in the name of his religion. How can love of life win out over his desire to put someone to death?"

As I wrote on Twitter, apart from the allusions to Christian imagery throughout their oeuvre, and the treatment of North African religious ceremony/beliefs in La Promesse, this could be the Dardennes' most direct examination of religion. Not sure when it'll be released yet--filming begins in Belgium this summer (2018)--but I do hope to visit and meet the Dardennes at some point in the filmmaking process, to observe how they do their "two-headed filmmaker" thing.

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A post-Cannes update: The English title is Young Ahmed, the Dardennes won Best Director at Cannes (a bit of a surprise upset for most of the film critics), and I was able to ask a question to the Dardennes in the Cannes press conference, which you can view here (my question begins at 20:30):

Here's my review of the film: https://cinemayward.com/review/young-ahmed/

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4 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

A post-Cannes update: The English title is Young Ahmed, the Dardennes won Best Director at Cannes (a bit of a surprise upset for most of the film critics), and I was able to ask a question to the Dardennes in the Cannes press conference, which you can view here (my question begins at 20:30):

Here's my review of the film: https://cinemayward.com/review/young-ahmed/

Very cool! 


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

Twitter.
Letterboxd.

Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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2 hours ago, Overstreet said:

This is great news. I'm so curious to hear others' responses to this film, as it's definitely a bit of an outlier for the Dardennes. The film also releases on DVD/Blu-ray in North America on June 16. Unfortunately, the film hasn't released *at all* in the UK, which means I'm going to have to somehow ship the Blu-ray (of course I'm buying this film on physical media!) to a mailing address in the US, then onward to my home address in Scotland.

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On 5/20/2020 at 8:11 AM, Joel Mayward said:

I'm going to have to somehow ship the Blu-ray (of course I'm buying this film on physical media!) to a mailing address in the US, then onward to my home address in Scotland.

I pre-ordered it from Amazon, which I was hoping to avoid. But for all its corporate evils, Amazon remains one of the best ways to get stuff to the coast of Scotland quickly and relatively cheaply. I imagine the Dardennes would not approve (they were producers for Ken Loach's Sorry We Missed You).

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Due to the teetering tower of papers and essays I have to grade this week, I won't be writing a proper review soon. But here are my first impressions on Letterboxd.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Jeffrey, my one critique of Young Ahmed meshes with yours, though I didn't have the same difficulty with the actor playing Ahmed.  Still, in what looks to be my first festival-free year since 2013, this is my favorite film of 2020: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2020/05/young-ahmed-on-the-knifes-edge-of-violent-fundamentalism/

And Joel, I finally watched the press conference that you linked to several months ago.  Well worth the watch.  Very, very cool that you got to pose such a good question to your heroes, even if they punted on parts 2 & 3 of your query.  (Alas, I've not had the same good fortune with Werner Herzog, as my upraised hand got overlooked at TIFF.)


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Great review, Andrew, and really interesting observation about the cows on the farm, as well as the role of governmental institutions which strive to help Ahmed and his family (as well as Ines). I'm curious, from a psychology perspective, what did you think of the role and portrayal various counselors and therapists in the film? You mentioned them a bit in the review, but I'm curious if they're seen as effective (both in terms of Ahmed's rehabilitation, and within the film's narrative).

And I think the critique made about the film's similarities to other Dardennes' films is valid, yet there are some really fascinating differences and "firsts" too. For instance, none of the Dardennes' "regulars" are in Young Ahmed, like Olivier Gourmet, Jeremie Renier, and Fabrizio Rongione; it's the first and only Dardenne brothers film Gourmet hasn't played any role.

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2 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

Great review, Andrew, and really interesting observation about the cows on the farm, as well as the role of governmental institutions which strive to help Ahmed and his family (as well as Ines). I'm curious, from a psychology perspective, what did you think of the role and portrayal various counselors and therapists in the film? You mentioned them a bit in the review, but I'm curious if they're seen as effective (both in terms of Ahmed's rehabilitation, and within the film's narrative).

Thank you, Joel - that means a lot coming from you, given your expertise on the Dardennes.  The portrayal of the therapeutic work at the detention center felt authentic to me, and "worked" within the entire narrative of Young Ahmed.  The psychologist and lead social worker seemed to be genuinely invested in helping Ahmed, and the overall milieu they offer youngsters would be the envy of their counterparts in the US, no doubt.  In the film's narrative, I don't think they were the agents of change for Ahmed, but I think that's more a function of Ahmed's secretiveness and ulterior motives, and not a failure on their part.  And in attempting to "deradicalize" troubled kids, they have a serious uphill climb ahead of them.  What was your take on this aspect of Young Ahmed?  As a former youth pastor, this would seem to be in your wheelhouse, too.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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When we can talk spoilers, I want to hear others' takes on the ending. The last moment was in no way a surprise... or even interesting to me. It was just sort of like "Here endeth the lesson."


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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17 hours ago, Overstreet said:

When we can talk spoilers, I want to hear others' takes on the ending. The last moment was in no way a surprise... or even interesting to me. It was just sort of like "Here endeth the lesson."

Keeping it vague for now, I wasn't surprised; but in going back and watching it a second time, I found it quite moving, and just right, given

 

all of the earlier talk and visual representation of touch/don't touch and purity/impurity.

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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When I can someday figure out how to use the "spoiler" feature again, I can write more about what I think about the ending in detail. I had a similar reaction to Andrew—the first time, a moment somewhat startled me but the final scene didn't really surprise me. But the second time, I found that entire final sequence to be far more complex, and more open to different interpretations about what will happen after the film cuts to black.

6 hours ago, Overstreet said:

As far as "regulars," no — but I think the soccer coach from Two Days One Night is in this; I recognized him at the Muslim community meeting.

The actress who plays Inès, Myriem Akheddiou, has become a regular of sorts—she was in small roles in The Kid with a Bike, Two Days, One Night, and The Unknown Girl. And I believe she's the romantic partner of Fabrizio Rongione. She's really great in this film too, and won a Magritte Award (the Belgian version of the Oscars) for Best Supporting Actress.

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9 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

When I can someday figure out how to use the "spoiler" feature again, I can write more about what I think about the ending in detail.

I keep the Spoiler instructions pinned in the About You forum: http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?/topic/26270-spoiler-tags/

Quote

{highlight=black} to open and {/highlight} to close, with square brackets.

 

That shows how to do the black band over text. The spoiler box is {spoiler} and {/spoiler} with the {} symbols replaced by square brackets. 

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Despite seeing the ending coming far enough in advance, I thought it totally worked both for ending the film with the strongest moment of grace (not dissimilar from The Son or Two Days, One Night) and for the way it completely knocks down Ahmed's religious extremism while exalting the charity and compassion of his teacher's religious beliefs. I'll probably write a review myself once I've had time to think about it a bit more.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Interjecting here for a second without looking (I have the film but haven't watched it yet) to say the "highlight" form of spoilers is apparently no longer working because html 5 apparently changed "highlight" code to "mark" and I haven't figured out yet how to fix that or if it is something that they IT guy can do that is board specific. So for now only the spoiler *box* appears to be working.

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There is a lot to commend here, especially in the way their observational skill is directed toward the various phenomena informing Ahmed's religious experience. The pacing is spot on in this respect. I once worked at McDonald's as a teenager, with an elderly Muslim gentleman. I once walked into the bathroom, early in the morning, when he was performing ablutions prior to prayer. Watching him wash his feet in the sink was such an act of ritual, personal integrity, and I think about that moment often.

There was another classic Dardennes formal element on display several times here, which is when the focal point shifts to the perspective of Ahmed while looking around a corner at someone being observed. This is a centerpiece POV switch in The Son, but I was startled by the thematic reversal here. I can fully understand comments about Young Ahmed playing a lot of common Dardennes' beats throughout, but I am wondering now if this is more playing on a formal theme with a fairly different set of focal points. A few scenes here play as a mirror image of sequences in their past work.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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I'm not sure we'll discuss this film during tonight's call, but I did watch it last night just in case.

I came here in search of discussion about the ending - not the details (spoilers), but to find out whether anyone had used the term "transcendental style" to describe it.

I read Schrader's book, Transcendental Style, many moons ago, and have always struggled to explain it. The release of First Reformed was a good chance to revisit the style, which Schrader brought up in interviews at the time (coinciding with a reissue of his book). I sensed that the end of Young Ahmed might be another example of that style, but maybe it's just a more typical Dardenne conclusion? Here's a succinct summation of Transcendental Style that specifically refers to resolution/endings (bold added by me):

The everyday suggests a depiction of the dull and banal (67). Disparity is defined as a visual expression of disunity between the protagonist and their environment, culminating in a “decisive action” (70). This disunity marks the “paradox of the spiritual existing within the physical,” which “cannot be ‘resolved’ by any earthly logic or human action” (108). Then in the decisive action – “a nonobjective, emotional event within a factual, emotionless environment” (74) – the spiritual dimension must be either accepted or rejected by the viewer, concluding in an onscreen representation of stasis, a feature of “religious art in every culture” (76). Stasis provides a view of the world, frozen for contemplation of the Transcendent. Reaching stasis demands careful use of “abundant” and “sparse” means, i.e., articulations of the visible and invisible, the work of everyday life and spirituality. The abundant must not overwhelm (too much religiousness in a film) nor be too sparse (not enough narrative); a film should set the viewer in motion by the end, asking them to enter the image, enter into the Transcendent (179).

That's rather heady, and I don't want to send everyone down a rabbit trail of signs/signifiers proving or disproving the theory as it relates to this film. I'm just wondering if the mere possibility of such a style could apply to this ending, which, I confess, made me feel very much the way I felt at the end of First Reformed. I don't see anything online when I google "Young Ahmed transcendental style," so I may be way off here. 

 


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian, I have thoughts about Schrader's "transcendental style" and its application to the Dardennes' distinct aesthetic, even as I also think that what they're doing has some clear differences from what Schrader is describing. And there have been good critiques of Schrader's understanding of "transcendence" and "style" (I know Ken has his reservations about it), and your quote hits on one of those: "stasis" as a feature of "religious art in every culture" simply isn't true. But I do think that climactic moment of apparent transcendence within the context of the concrete and everyday is definitely a feature of what the Dardennes are doing in each of their films. Which is partially why the climactic scene may feel unsurprising or predictable, a criticism that has been leveled at the film in a few reviews.

On 5/27/2020 at 7:24 PM, M. Leary said:

especially in the way their observational skill is directed toward the various phenomena informing Ahmed's religious experience. The pacing is spot on in this respect.

One film critic at Cannes in 2019 described these scenes as "boring" and "mundane" in his review, which struck me as saying much more about him than it did about the film.

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Sigh. I am not happy. 
I'm old enough and have been through enough A&F cycles to not want to play too strong an early role in a conversation, forcing the discussion into battle lines and agonistic exchanges. So this is just me expressing disappointment on a personal level. I haven't felt as disatsified by a film I went in with a reasonable expectation of loving since....dunno...maybe Cloud Altlas?

Here's my stream of consciousness first impressions...https://letterboxd.com/kenmorefield/film/young-ahmed/

I don't know if I can say more than that because I remember how much this forum used to piss me off when someone would express admiration for something, anything, and that meant someone else was guaranteed like clockwork to come in and shit all over it. The Dardennes get a lifetime pass from me, but if this weren't a Dardenne film (or the first one I saw), I'd be sad. (Hmm...maybe I need to go back and watch Magnolia again...)

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