The Movie Waffler New Release Review - FREMONT | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - FREMONT

Fremont review
An Afghan immigrant uses her job at a fortune cookie factory to send a message out to the world.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Babak Jalali

Starring: Anaita Wali Zada, Gregg Turkington, Jeremy Allen White

Fremont poster

The city doesn't care. Daily, nightly, a populace of millions shift through its concrete arteries, swallowed up by the glass and steel shadows its towering constructions throw. We go to the city to complete a need, but the city only ever anonymises, incapable of acknowledging our hopes and dreams (a side note; over the summer I rewatched the uber text of this narrative type, Taxi Driver, and was struck by how congruous Travis - gormless, dangerous, entitled - is with our modern incel culture: prophetic). In the case of Babak Jalali's (writing with Carolina Cavalli) really quite special Fremont, this dream is of an American flavour, with Afghan emigrant Donya (Anaita Wali Zada - incredible) eking out a meagre existence while working in a factory in Fremont. It is an ignominious profession following her previously more vital role as an overseas translator for the U.S. army. Donya is uncomplaining, yet haunted by her experiences of war, and, as an immigrant in an anonymous city, alienated and deeply lonely.

Fremont review

Guided by Laura Valladao's monochrome photography, Fremont's style communicates disaffection in shades of lush pewter and silvers. We open in the fortune cookie factory where Donya works (the history of the fortune cookie is an interesting little rabbit hole in itself and supports Fremont's Americana themes). The heavy machinery, glum faces of the workers, and rolling mass of produce is far removed from the whimsical magic implied by a biscuit which can apparently divine fate. To compound the point, we first see Donya on the fringes of a conversation with workers about what one would do if they won a million dollars - the most desolate of all workplace chats. Donya wanders the streets alone. She visits a pro-bono therapist (I got the sense that he too, like everyone else, is desperate for connection) for help with her insomnia but who, wryly played by Gregg Turkington, is not much use at all: in one of Fremont's most poignant jokes, a session concludes with Donya consoling him through his tears.

An immigrant to America herself, Wali Zada is incredible in her first role, and gives the disparate narrative and loose interactions of Fremont human gravity. With her intense beauty, the camera loves Wali Zada and, via her portrayal of stoic, relatable Donya, you will too as she interacts with Fremont's gallery of quirky denizens. There is the friend who offers knowing-but-pretty-shit-actually dating advice, the well-meaning-but-patronising boss, his mean-spirited wife. Where do people go in the city to find actual connections, to make friends, to find love? When a co-worker drops dead on the job (another of Fremont's sly, deadpan jokes) Donya is promoted to "fortune writer" for the cookies, and decides to enclose a personal message along with her phone number within the baked wafer folds of the confection...

Fremont review

The action has all the promise of a rom-com set up, but Fremont has no such genre fealty, or interest in narrative routine. In the initial sequences we are located within the frames of Prime Indie: that is, the thick black and white mise-en-scene of Jarmusch or Go Fish (love that film), along with the de rigueur arch presentation of long-held static shots (an acid jazz score follows Donya through the neon city streets, and we're back in 1994). The deliberately nostalgic invocation is a bit like when an oversaturated contemporary horror film trades off '80s memories, but Fremont is more sincere than that, and utilises the retro mode to consolidate its aura of displacement and artful isolation.

Among the picaresque is Donya's Afghan neighbour, who blanks her throughout, deeming her a traitor in the same way that her home country people do following her service with the American army. Fremont presents the immigrant situation, and the empty wish of the American dream, in ways which are subtle but persistent. We see this most eloquently through a sweet analogy with White Fang, Donya's therapist's favourite book and a canon text of American actualisation: like the eponymous hybrid of the novel, Donya is viewed with suspicion within her new context, and her supposed kinspeople also deny her. This conclusive exposition is kept until the end of the second act, up until which the film has gradually built its imperial sense of solitude, strange claustrophobia and cultural incongruity in visual waves of grey/gray.

Fremont review

Could romance come in the kind, teddy bear-like form of mechanic Jeremy Allen White (a hunk who always looks on the verge of tears?). If so, then the loneliness which wounds both characters is assuaged by gentle and simple emotional honesty, forging a bond against all the odds in the shadows of the city. Although its arty throwback stylings may initially constern, the connection Fremont ultimately makes with audiences will last long after the credits.

Fremont is in UK/ROI cinemas from September 15th.

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