The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - DEAR SON | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - DEAR SON

dear son review
A Tunisian father journeys to Turkey in an attempt to prevent his son from joining IS in Syria.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mohamed Ben Attia

Starring: Mohamed Dhrif, Imen Cherif, Zakaria Ben Ayyed

dear son poster

IS, Al Qaeda and the various other groups battling the Assad regime in Syria have attracted young men and women from around the world to their cause. It's estimated that Tunisia accounts for the largest group of foreign fighters in Syria, with as many as 7,000 young Tunisian (predominantly) males joining up with rebel groups in the country.

dear son review

Tunisian writer/director Mohamed Ben Attia's sophomore feature Dear Son examines this crisis his nation is currently facing through the perspective of a father whose son leaves for Syria, for reasons he simply cannot fathom.

Much like Attia's debut, 2016's Hedi, Dear Son features a young man suffering an existential crisis. The only child of middle class parents Riadh (Mohamed Dhrif) and Nazli (Mouna Mejri), Sami (Zakaria Ben Ayed) has a life that appears comfortable on the material surface, yet he's mentally tortured by an inability to find meaning in the increasingly westernised society he's growing up in. When asked why he seems so permanently miserable, Sami fobs off his parents with claims that he's suffering migraines. His well-meaning but oblivious father's response is to claim migraines are a sign of great intelligence. When Sami mysteriously disappears one morning, Riadh finds a receipt for a plane ticket to Turkey. Aware of Turkey's notorious status as the primary destination for those wishing to illegally cross into Syria, Riadh realises just where his son has gone. Against his wife's wishes, Riadh travels to Turkey in a seemingly futile attempt to find his son.

dear son review

The second half of Attia's film plays a lot like Costa Gavras's Missing, in which Jack Lemmon similarly searches for a son caught up in a political revolution. It follows a procedural element as the naive Riadh clumsily inveigles his way into the system that allows young men like his son to smuggle themselves into a war-torn country. There's something very simplistic however about how Attia presents this process, and it requires a sizeable suspension of disbelief if you're to go along with how easily Riadh is able to trace his son's steps.
Far more satisfying is the drama that plays out prior to Sami's disappearance. It's an affecting story of a father and son who no longer recognise one another as their values take differing turns at a philosophical crossroads. For Riadh, life is simple. As a young man his goals were to find a career and start a family, both of which he achieved. He fails to understand why this may not be enough for his boy. Conversely, Sami finds himself at a raucous party, surrounded by peers but feeling completely alone among them, retreating to a bathroom during a bout of existential anxiety.

What Attia pulls off best here is representing Riadh's unspoken fear of losing his son. After dropping Sami off at the aforementioned social gathering, Riadh tells his son he plans to visit with a nearby friend while Sami enjoys the party, but Attia's camera keeps rolling as Riadh parks around the corner and takes a nap, an example of when a long take can serve both a film's plot and its underlying theme. This comes after Riadh explodes with rage at his son for not answering his phone when the pair become separated in a nearby park.

dear son review

Riadh's wife fails to understand why her husband is willing to risk making her a widow by travelling to Syria in search of his son, but Attia makes it clear to the audience why he needs to undertake such a dangerous and likely pointless quest. Riadh blames himself for a failure to communicate openly with his son, but how many fathers really do?

Dear Son is on Netflix UK/ROI now.