The Dardenne brothers have built their extraordinary filmography centered around the “little people” – working class, unemployed, social outsiders, illegal immigrants, underprivileged – and hence it was logical to extend their oeuvre to religious minorities. However, the representation of Muslims and radicalization in contemporary cinema is replete with ham-handed biases and prejudices (both overt and covert) – from bigoted stereotyping of so-called “Bad Muslims” to sanctimonious patronizing of so-called “Good / Misguided Muslims” – and hence, one might wonder, if two middle-aged white men, despite their celebrated pedigrees, were suited to tackling a subject as complex as this. Young Ahmed, unsurprisingly, was therefore a mixed bag. While it was suffused with their customary empathy, humanism, level-headedness and low-key representations, it was also lacking in subtlety, was culturally clumsy at times, had its share of stereotypes and the standpoint veered towards pity and value judgements; in other words, while it had aspects that made it worth a watch, it was at times problematic too. The film’s titular protagonist is 13-year old Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) who has imbibed an extreme form of religious interpretations and beliefs thanks to his conservative local imam and online videos, and hence sees the world in absolutes. As a result he starts rebuking his single mom and sister for their liberal lifestyles; things, however, take a disturbing turn when he attacks his teacher (Myriem Akheddiou) for alleged apostasy, which lands him in a juvenile correctional centre. There, though he’s dealt with fairness in an attempt to “cleanse” his radicalism, he isn’t the easiest nut to crack – his dogged obstinacy might even remind one of The Kid with a Bike – until a painful realization hits him at the end.
Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Urban Drama