- Belgian-Moroccan filmmaker Jawad Rhalib signs an uncompromising work that fits radically into a militant filmography mixing fiction and documentary
Jawad Rhalib revealed in world premiere at Film Fest Gent his new feature, Amal [+see also:
interview: Jawad Rhalib
film profile]. Navigating between fiction films (7 rue de la Folie, Insoumise) and documentaries (Les Damnés de la mer, When Arabs Danced [+see also:
film profile], Fadma: Even Ants Have Wings [+see also:
film profile]), the Belgian-Moroccan filmmaker pursues a career marked by his activism, and his attention to the issues facing contemporary societies. In When Arabs Danced, he questioned the love of art of Arab culture, and met artists fighting for their art in the face of fundamentalism. With Amal, which will have its international premiere in competition at the upcoming Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, he continues this reflection in a fictional mode, by painting the fiery portrait of a literature professor in a Brussels school, confronted with the defensiveness of some students, parents, but also fellow teachers when she decides to teach works by Arab poet Aboû Nouwâs. These satirical verses from the 8th century boasting of the sexual freedom of their author hurt these 21st century students.
When facing Amal (Lubna Azabal), the classroom reflects many opinions as well as situations. Monia (Kenza Benbouchta) has chosen to openly embrace her queer identity, transgressing the vow of discretion praised by her father, who is loving but worried about the safety of his daughter and family. Jalila (Ethelle Gonzalez Lardued) puts her veil back on as soon as she leaves the school. She clumsily tries to contain the anger inside her, and throws the discriminations she suffers back onto others. Rachid (Mehdi Khachachi) wonders about what he believes to be his convictions, but which could be the ones we tried to impose upon him.
“Read, ask yourselves questions, develop your critical thinking, you’ll be free.” The teacher is firmly convinced that school can be an open door to the world, a place that allows young people to widen their scope of possibility. For that reason, she opposes obscurantism, censorship, the hold of religion on the arts and literature, and won’t tolerate the sidelining of any text to avoid “provocation.” “Putting minds at rest” is the creed that the school director (Catherine Salée) keeps hammering with resignation, as if shattered and disappointed by these tensions in the community. Secularism seems to have had a long life at her school, and dissension is growing among the teaching staff as Amal asserts her freedom to think and teach.
It’s at the heart of this educational powder keg that Jawad Rhalib has placed his camera. He observes with a documentary strength as the conflicts worsen, in the classroom as in the teachers’ room. The murder of Samuel Paty is of course on everybody’s mind. Rhalib notably watches the growing influence that Nabil (Fabrizio Rongione) gains, an all-powerful religion teacher and converted imam in the neighbourhood. The few forays into the private lives of a handful of characters also allow for a salutary step back and to better understand the complexity of the web that connects all members of the community. In the title role, which seems written for her, Lubna Azabal is more than convincing, she inhabits her character with a rare intensity. Facing her, both the young and the more experienced actors play with great truthfulness the often difficult journeys of their characters. Jawad Rhalib here dares to make a thesis film, placing narrative arcs that leave no doubt as to what he is denouncing, including some people’s refusal to engage in the name of “precaution” when faced with extremisms, even inside classrooms.
Amal was produced by Scope Pictures (Belgium) and Serendipity Films (Belgium). Bendita Films is handling international sales. The film will be distributed in Belgium by Scope Pictures, with a release planned for February 2024.
(Translated from French)
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