Directed by Phillipe Faucon
Philadelphia Film Festival
Fatima is a marvelous, small drama about the immigrant experience. Fatima (Soria Zeroual) works hard as a cleaner to support her two daughters Souad (Kenza Noah Äiche), a rebellious high-school student, and Nesrine (Zita Hanrot), a first-year medical student. Tensions build as all three women become jaded by their respective places in life.
Director Philippe Faucon shoots Fatima mostly in a static medium shot. This isn’t the cold, static European arthouse, nor is it classically blocked cinema. Neither is the camera particularly observational. Instead, Faucon’s style is simple and designed to let the actors do the work. It’s a no-frills film, the guileless style of which does anything but distract.
A dialogue heavy film (in that, and also the framing, it’s reminiscent of recent Asghar Farhadi films), Fatima leans heavily on the performance of two non-actors – Zeroual and Äiche, both of whom pull off their parts impressively. Though Zeroual is quite good and has the most screentime, it’s Äiche – defiant and anchorless – who sets the bar.
There are small moments of xenophobia in Fatima and Faucon is sure to spread them evenly throughout the film, but he doesn’t place any particular blame. Fatima’s difficult situation has as much and as little to do with the French mother of one of Souad’s friends who ignores her in the grocery store, as it does with other Algerian women who constantly nag her about her daughters’ insolence. This evenhandedness is what makes Fatima work – the onus is on the women. The world adds additional pressures, but it’s their relationships and perseverance that will make or break them.
We don’t see Souad, Fatima, and Nesrine on-screen together in the film, and this tactic of Faucon’s also works. The women, though close, feel so distant from one another. The ending, which implies a reunion of sorts, promises to be joyful though it happens after the screen has already faded black.