The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Curzon Home Cinema] - YOUNG AHMED | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Curzon Home Cinema] - YOUNG AHMED

young ahmed review
A radicalised teen plots the murder of a teacher.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Starring: Idir Ben Addi, Olivier Bonnaud, Myriem Akheddiou, Victoria Bluck, Claire Bodson, Othmane Moumen

young ahmed poster

If you've seen Kirill Serebrennikov's excellent Russian drama The Student, you'll be familiar with the scenario presented in the latest from Belgium's Dardennes brothers. Like that film, Young Ahmed concerns a teenage boy who almost overnight, becomes radicalised by religious fundamentalism. In both films the protagonists memorise their creed's main text book - for The Student it's the Bible, here it's the Qur'an - and immediately brandish its words as a weapon against women, with a misogynistic quote conveniently on hand for every scenario. What unites fundamentalists of both Christian and Islamic bents, and even those online man-children who get angry at things like gender-reversed Ghostbusters remakes, is the idea that women with progressive ideas pose a threat to their way of life. As in The Student, for the eponymous Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi), it's a female teacher, Inés (Myriem Akheddiou), who draws his ire for the perceived offence of teaching songs in Arabic, a blasphemous taboo in the interpretation of Islam fostered by his local Imam (Othmane Moumen).

young ahmed review

When Ahmed's attempt to murder Inés with a knife is botched, he finds himself in a detention centre. Far from the brutal borstals of Starred Up or Scum, this place is practically a holiday camp, staffed by sensitive bearded types who do their best to de-radicalise the boy while respecting his beliefs. While working on the centre's farm he befriends a young girl, Louise (Victoria Bluck), who stirs something inside him which he immediately represses.

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Ahmed might be locked up, but he hasn't given up his plan to kill Inés. In true prison movie fashion, he fashions a shiv from a toothbrush, and does his best to follow the rules so he might be allowed an encounter with his victim, where he hopes to finish what he started.

young ahmed review

A nicely observed character touch sees Ahmed keep his copy of the Qur'an in a zip-lock bag, treasuring it the way boys his age might treasure a rare comic book or a porn mag found in a hedge. But that's about as deep as Ahmed gets. Known for creating some of the most humanistic films of recent decades, the Dardennes present us with a lazily drawn and patronisingly simplistic portrait of a radicalised young man. Ahmed has no personality, as though he's one of those CIA sleeper agents who lie on beds in hotel rooms waiting to be activated by secret code words in Robert Ludlum novels. His pursuit of Inés is as one-dimensional as a Terminator chasing Sarah Connor. He falls into radicalism the way teens become alcoholics in 1970s after-school specials.

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Like the staff at Ahmed's detention centre, the Dardennes treat religious fundamentalism as though it's an addiction that can be cured through cold turkey. Nobody ever asks Ahmed why he believes the things he does, and Inés, the only character who seems like she might be able to get through to him, is side-lined for the bulk of the movie. Aside from a line from Ahmed's mother about how he stopped playing video games two weeks ago (you would think a budding Jihadi might use such games as a training device), we get no real backstory of how Ahmed came to be this way.

young ahmed review

Young Ahmed has no real interest in getting inside its protagonist's head, because it's already made up its mind about him, dismissing Ahmed as no more than a moody teen going through a rebellious phase. If you're the sort of person who reductively dismisses terrorists as "cowards", Young Ahmed's jejune Jihadism might be enough, but if you're expecting an exploration of why young men turn to such darkness, look elsewhere. "Misogyny is bad," is about as profound as this piece of secular scorn porn gets.

Young Ahmed is on Curzon Home Cinema from August 7th.

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