YOUNG AHMED (Le jeune Ahmed)

YOUNG AHMED (Le jeune Ahmed)

Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Runtime: 90 MINUTES

Cast: Idir Ben Addi, Olivier Bonnaud, Myriem Akheddiou, Victoria Bluck, Claire Bodson, Othmane Moumen

Synopsis: A Belgian teenager hatches a plot to kill his teacher after embracing an extremist interpretation of the Qu’ran


The justifiably renowned Dardenne Brothers won the Cannes Directing prize last year for YOUNG AHMED. Acclaimed for their social realist cinema[Le Fils (The Son) 2002, L’Enfant (The Child) 2005, Le Silence de Lorna (Lorna’s Silence) 2008,The Kid with a Bike 2011, Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night) 2015] they take an unsentimental, sparse look at religious fundamentalism through the story of a 13-year-old boy, Ahmed (first-time actor Idir Ben Addi who delivers an outstanding performance.) Driven to a horrific act after taking to heart an extremist interpretation of the Qu’ran espoused by a local imam, Youssef (Othmane Moumen) who operates out of the stock room of the local corner shop.

Set in a small town in Belgium, Ahmed, studious-looking and bespectacled, soon is utterly devoted to a fundamentalist religious philosophy that takes no prisoners. With his youth and malleability, his growing adherence to what he considers to be a true Muslim is stoked by his relationship with local imam, Youssouf, who rails at what he considers to be the growing secular attack on Islam.

Without a father in the home to guide him, Ahmed adopts the imam’s “us versus them” attitude even when it comes to his family. He calls his sister a “slut” because of the casual way she dresses and berates his mother [Claire Bodson, (Our Children (2012)] for drinking wine and not wearing a hijab. Apparently, Ahmed’s transformation is recent since his mother laments the fact that just last year all he thought about were video games.

Now he spends his spare time at prayer and ablutions, at the imam’s modest madrasa, and on his laptop, where he watches videos about jihadist martyrs, including one of his cousins.

Ahmed is burdened by the memory of this cousin who apparently took his own life as a suicide bomber, a fact that the imam will not let him forget. The teenager’s main source of conflict is with his teacher Inès [Myriem Akheddiou, (The Kid with a Bike (2011)]. He refuses to shake her hand because he thinks women are impure and because she is dating a person of the Jewish faith. He is also upset about her plans to use music to teach Arabic and the Qu’ran, plans that he considers sacrilegious. Labelled by the imam as an apostate, the impressionable teenager tries to prove his faith by physically assaulting her, an action for which he is placed in juvenile custody. Even this is too much for the imam who tells Ahmed that he said to oppose her beliefs, not try to kill her.

Young Ahmed is a gripping tale but the film’s real drama revolves around a young man whose obsession with ideology blinds him to his own humanity and that of others.

Streaming on Curzon Home Cinema.

Images courtesy of: Curzon Home Cinema