Review by Sean Boelman
Tackling one of the most urgent issues facing society today, the new drama Young Ahmed frequently appears like a problem waiting to happen. However, thanks to excellent and nuanced work from writer-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, this manages to be a thought-provoking commentary on the indoctrination of young people.
The film tells the story of a Belgian teenager who, after coming to embrace an extremist view of the Quran, plans to kill his teacher. As one would expect, the movie revolves around some very touchy subject matter, and as a result, is consistently treading the line of what feels urgent and what seems irresponsible.
Luckily, the Dardennes approach the film’s themes in a way that never quite goes over the edge, challenging the audience without ever being offensive. There are a few scenes in the movie, particularly towards the beginning, that are a bit too direct for the film’s own good, but the second and third acts quickly recover the movie with their more subtle character study.
The eponymous character is very complex and the film does a very good job of exploring the implications of his arc. Ahmed’s arc is undeniably tragic, and while it is easy to look down on his actions, viewers will still feel a sense of pity for him in light of the context of his actions. This movie uses the soul-crushing nature of its story to its advantage, the intense emotional impact the film has causing the message to hit even harder.
A majority of the movie’s conflict occurs in the first act, with the second and third acts being much more contemplative. General audiences may be put off by this unorthodox pacing, but it works quite well to invest the viewer in the story early on so that the real work can be done in the rest of the film.
Newcomer Idir Ben Addi gives an absolutely phenomenal performance in his leading role. It is almost shocking that this is his first ever appearance because he has such a natural screen presence. His delivery feels so honest and heartfelt, likely due to a combination of his talent and the Dardenne’s abilities to bring out his potential.
On a technical level, the movie is quite strong. Featuring simple but elegant cinematography, the visual style of the film is good enough to be noticable but not flashy enough to distract from the main focus of the movie: the script. Also noticeable some of the most intense moments of the film are shot in unflinching long takes that effectively trap the viewer in the scene.
Although it will likely have its fair share of critics, Young Ahmed is a very well-made and provocative movie. It is important that this discussion be had (and quickly), and this film is a good place to start.
Young Ahmed is now playing in theaters.