Review: The Young Imam
- Kim Chapiron broaches the subject of Islam in France from an intimate angle, delivering a moving film about the complex feelings between a son and his mother
"Actions can only be judged on intentions." Echoing this reflection offered up by one of the characters in his new film The Young Imam [+see also:
film profile], due for release in French cinemas on 26 April, courtesy of Le Pacte, Kim Chapiron (revealed via Sheitan [+see also:
film profile] in Toronto 2005, named Best Director in Tribeca 2010 thanks to Dog Pound [+see also:
film profile], and earning nominations for two of his actors at the 2015 Lumières Awards by way of Smart Ass [+see also:
film profile]) runs with the subject of Islam in France with very clear ideas in his mind, which also run counter to the usual film clichés surrounding the religion. There’s isn’t any radicalism or terrorist activity here, no culture clash with its snowball effects, no love thwarted by traditions; just an everyday, peaceful expression of a religious practice like any other, in a pluralistic France. It’s a set-up described with precision by the filmmaker in order to better develop the central element of his movie: the tormented relationship between a son and his mother.
When Mrs. Diallo (Hady Berthé), who is raising her three children on her own in Montfermeil in the Parisian suburbs, learns that her young son Ali (who’s roughly ten years old) has stolen most of the money collected for a neighbour’s retirement, it’s a drama and a source of great shame. "He’s surrounded by bad influences. I don’t want to see him anymore". So she takes him to Mali, the land of her birth, and entrusts him to the educational institution run by Sheik Boubakar (Issaka Sawadogo). For Ali, this separation and exile comes as a total shock. Isolated ("you’re not from round here, you were born in France") and devastated ("my mum is dead"), he resorts to stealing once again but the sheik protects him ("my son, you no longer belong to evil, you are good") and re-directs his life.
Ten years later, he’s back with his family. Ali (acting revelation Abdulah Sissoko) needs to find his place in society and wants to win back his mother’s respect. His talent for singing and support from the new generation see him becoming the neighbourhood’s new imam. From numbers of views on social media to his sermons which attract small crowds, he becomes increasingly involved, also intent on organising pilgrimages to Mecca which are affordable for all… But even the mighty can fall…
A film with a double-meaning, Le Jeune imam (whose screenplay was penned by the director, together with Ladj Ly, Ramzi Ben Sliman and Dominique Baumard) takes a dynamic approach to exploring the nuances and ambivalences of love, whether maternal or filial, religious or inherent to the narcissism of self-esteem when this is fuelled by the esteem of others. By way of a simple story and an everyday tragedy (whose teaser-prologue partially ruins the suspense), the film exposes the deep wounds we carry with us since birth, which lead to a touching yet naive quest for recognition and unconscious yearnings for signs of love. But, as is often the case, it’s in times of trouble that the truth will out. It’s a parable (with the potential to be interpreted on a larger scale) which also shines a light on the deeply prosaic nature of the religious practices of six million Muslims in France, which is usually overshadowed in the media and in film.
The Young Imam is produced by Srab Films, Lyly Films and Septième Ciel, in co-production with Eskwad, Kallouche Cinéma, Les Films Velvet and Rectangle Productions. International sales are steered by Goodfellas.
(Translated from French)
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