February 10, 2021 – This 2019 Belgian drama (released in 2020 in the U.S.) directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is a straightforward story about radicalized 13-year-old boy who thinks he has to murder a woman for teaching Arabic.
The boy, Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) is scary in his single minded determination to kill a Belgian teacher, Inès (played by Myriem Akheddiou) for teaching conversational Arabic in a secular, as opposed to strictly male-dominated religious, setting. Ahmed's mentor, Imam Youssouf (played by Othmane Moumen) tells Ahmed that Inès is a dangerous apostate.
Ahmed becomes convinced that he must kill Inès because it is his duty as a faithful Muslim. Imam Youssouf agrees that Inès should be killed but not until a Jihad when Muslims will rise up against the secular authorities. Imam Youssouf knows full well that he may be arrested if Ahmed kills Inès, and he wants no part of it. However, he is powerless to stop what he has set in motion.
What could motivate young Ahmed to murder a kindly teacher and, at the same time, throw his own life away? The movie hints at some motivations, including the boy's veneration for his martyred cousin, a veneration nurtured by Imam Youssouf himself.
Ahmed embraces the purity of his faith and slavishly follows its rituals, including excessive mouth washing, a curious ritual indeed for a religion born in the desert. At the same time, he rejects the guidance of his mother (played by Claire Bodson) and other family members in favor of Imam Youssouf, who has clearly taken the place of his absent father.
When Ahmed's intentions to kill Inès are revealed, Imam Youssouf confronts him and instructs Ahmed to avoid telling the authorities the truth about what his teachings. Imam Youssouf tells Ahmed he won't be in custody for long, and to just keep quiet about what he said about Inès, but otherwise cooperate with the authorities.
In custody, Ahmed tells the authorities what they want to hear, but he still wants to kill Inès and makes his murderous plans in secret. However, his own body has other plans. As puberty sets in he is attracted to a young girl, Louise (Victoria Bluck) who is attracted to him. When they kiss, Ahmed suddenly begins to doubt the purity of his convictions.
In an increasingly confused state, Ahmed tries to convince Louise to become a Muslim, while still planning to kill Inès. But if he kills Inès, will he have a future with Louise, or any woman? Is that the life he wants for himself?
Like most young teenagers trying to come to grips with the meaning of life, and at the same time believing everything that adults tell him, he is a fool. He knows almost nothing about the responsibilities of being human in this world. Like a child soldier, he is old enough to kill, but not old enough to realize there are oceans of consequences that flow from even a single killing.
What will Ahmed do in the end? Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, who wrote the screenplay, as well as directing this film, very cleverly leave this question up in the air until literally the final seconds of the film. This makes for a compelling story. The actors are all very convincing. This film rates a B.
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