Fatima: Windows and barriers at the heart of integration
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2015: Philippe Faucon’s moving piece on the place of a first generation immigrant and her two daughters in French society
"It’s me, it’s the headscarf, it made her look at me with suspicion". Fatima, the stoic antiheroine of the film of the same name showcased by Philippe Faucon at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 68th Cannes Film Festival, Fatima [+see also:
interview: Philippe Faucon
film profile], asks herself questions and worries. She doesn’t have the necessary tools to decrypt reality or even understand her own daughters, Nesrine and Souad, 18 and 15 years old respectively, who have grown up in French society. It’s the heart of this solid family unit, that is nonetheless separated by generational differences and a language barrier (the mother speaks Arabic, her daughters speak French, French slang even), that Philippe Faucon scrutinises meticulously and delicately, in a sound cinematographic style that goes straight to the point, without embellishment or schmaltz. This is a skilfully written detailed description of a female microcosm, of daily integration and its promise, which resonates hugely in the context of a country restless with artificial debates on immigration, and which offers a tender and generally optimistic reverse side of the previous work of the director (La Désintégration [+see also:
film profile] and its young characters who topple over into fundamentalism).
"My daughters live in a French society and I don’t speak French. I’m not worth anything and my daughters suffer as a result." Fatima (Soria Zeroual), who is raising her children alone, is the model loving mother who sacrifices herself for her children ("I’ll help you, cleaning doesn’t scare me"). Up at the crack of dawn to go and clean this or that property, elegant bourgeois homes where she is exploited ("I can only pay you for two hours") and keeping her own household in order, she does her best to support her eldest daughter, Nesrine (Zita Henrot), who throws herself into the study of medicine. Helping her daughter to pay for her flat-share, selling her jewellery to raise the funds, bringing her meals, encouraging her, Fatima has high hopes for Nesrine ("look at your hands, these are the hands of a lady, not a cleaning lady"), which puts enormous pressure on the young girl, who has a bit of a complex about her roots ("it’s far away, it’s another environment, another world"). Fatima is also completely at sea over the teenage rebellion of her youngest, Souad (Kenza Noah Aïche) whom she cannot help with her studies and who despises her mother ("- You’ll come and clean with me – never, I’d rather steal!", "She cleans away other people’s shit"). All this in an atmosphere fuelled by the jealousy Fatima harbours towards her neighbours and by important traditions ("here people talk, you have to calculate your every move, your every word", "- If you meet a boy, you must tell me – What are you afraid of? That he’s not a Muslim?"), which start to make less and less sense to the girls.
By painting a highly moving portrait of this mother consumed by the fear of her children’s failure, committing herself to a life as a manual labourer, Philippe Faucon keenly examines the principle of vessels of communication between generations ("where a parent is hurt, there are angry children") and the essential role that mastering codes of communication has in a person’s integration into society, first and foremost through the language, this French language that Fatima (who writes in her diary in Arabic at night) sets about learning to open the door to a new freedom.
Based on the books Prayer to the Moon and Enfin, je peux marcher seule! [Lit. Finally, I can walk alone!] by Fatima Elayoubi, Fatima was produced by Istiqlal Films with Canada. The film will be distributed in France on 7 October by Pyramide, which will also handle international sales.
(Translated from French)
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