Review by Erin M. Brady
If you have ever found yourself in a life-altering event, you likely know how isolating it is to adjust to normalcy. It is even more isolating if you are an immigrant trying to start over in the supposed land of opportunity. This best describes Donya (Anaita Wali Zada), the subject of the surprise festival hit Fremont. She lives a simple, if not suffocating, life. She works at a fortune cookie factory and often spends her evenings alone or as the sole patron of an Afghan restaurant. However, when she receives an unexpected job opportunity, Donya decides to take charge of her life in her own way.
Fremont -- the fourth feature by director Babak Jalali — is a quietly fascinating look at what is considered truly American. So much of how Donya moves around each frame is influenced by her past as a translator for the armed forces in Afghanistan. It is incredible that this film marks Zada’s screen debut, considering how poignant of a presence she is. Her stoic expressions come across as more forced than natural, and each of her lines is delivered so realistically that it’s hard to imagine that she’s acting. It’s hard to imagine the film working without her specifically as its lead, as so much of what makes Fremont work comes back to her.
That isn’t to say there aren’t other aspects of the film worth highlighting. The black-and-white coloring amplifies Donya’s isolation in her surroundings, making the environments she navigates even lonelier than they already are. This coloring also makes even simple artistic shots feel impactful in a way that harks back to the early films of Jim Jarmusch.
However, directly comparing Jalali to Jarmusch would be a disservice to how uniquely composed Fremont is. It is not a particularly exciting or fast-paced film, but it doesn’t set out to be. It instead wants to show how unremarkable the American Dream really is, and how it isn’t the end-all-be-all for immigrants that people make it out to be. The film, which Jalali also co-wrote alongside Carolina Cavalli, sometimes bangs this message over the viewer’s head, but not without good reason. It’s not a takedown nor a glorification, but something more deceptively mundane: it's simply a look into one Afghan woman’s perspective. All she wants is to sleep at night, and even if she isn't convinced she's traumatized, it's a noble dream to have.
Fremont arrives in theaters on August 25.