Heaven Will Wait: Flies in the spider’s web
by Fabien Lemercier
- Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar has made a powerful and “educational” film about the jihadist indoctrination of adolescents and the familial distress it causes
“Which would you prefer? To save the world or please your mother?” Unveiled at Locarno then screened at Toronto, Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s striking Heaven Will Wait [+see also:
film profile] hit French cinemas today (distributed by UGC), in harmony with the turmoil in the news surrounding terrorism and, in particular, the indoctrination of French nationals into the jihadist world. Having already been analysed in French cinema from the perspective of the local cell planning an attack (La Désintégration [+see also:
film profile], Inside the Cell [+see also:
film profile]) and the angle of parents confronted with the disappearance of their jihadist-aspiring children (Cowboys [+see also:
film profile], Road to Istanbul [+see also:
film profile]), the subject is, this time, dissected by looking at the phenomenon of adolescent radicalisation and the opposite movement of deradicalisation. It is a topic that the director recreates with impressive fervour, equally dramatic as it is educational, affirming her great ability to direct young actors while also speaking to the general public with the same effectiveness she showed with her previous film, Once in a Lifetime [+see also:
The creation of empathy for the protagonists through the film’s use of a healthy amount of well-documented realism and the necessary fictitious elements proves to be indispensible in understanding the way in which these teenagers can be seduced by the pull of jihad, as well as their psychological suffering. This suffering then leads them to do an about-face, and free themselves of the deeply rooted jihadist ideas. Heaven Will Wait is also, and especially, an exploration of this young stage of life. It is a time in a person’s life in which desires, dreams, rebellion, awkwardness, the search for identity and meaning, and the sensitive power of emotions take on intransigent and passionate dimensions, making it a fertile hunting ground for the formidable cunning of jihadist recruiters, roaming the Internet searching fragile victims to indoctrinate and convert.
Penned by Emilie Frèche and the director, the screenplay unfolds across two stories. Under house arrest after having tried to leave for Syria, Sonia (Noémie Merlant) undergoes the painful process of deradicalisation, surrounded by her loving, yet distressed, parents (Sandrine Bonnaire and Zinedine Soualem). A journey full of denial, conflict, relapses and guilt for everyone concerned, like the slow rehabilitation of a captive mind. A spiralling journey, the opposite path of which is also portrayed in the film, through the gradual indoctrination of Mélanie (Naomi Amarger), whose desire to change the world through humanitarian missions will transform into jihadist beliefs as the result of a relationship forged over the Internet.
Piecing together important information over both these stories, Heaven Will Wait paints a touching portrait of penniless parents (notably through a third story that sees Clotilde Courau play Mélanie’s devastated mother, after her daughter has left for Syria), but also, through sequences featuring discussion groups on radicalisation, brings families and young girls together around Dounia Bouzar (in the same role on screen as she has in real life). Skilfully pieced together, in the form of a temporal puzzle, the film moves at a rapid pace, and, without provoking snap-judgements, succeeds in educating and effectively showing how the purity of adolescence can be corrupted with sinister designs, from which it is then extremely difficult to extract oneself.
(Translated from French)