Tunisian director Ben Attia’s second feature is minimalist to a fault, but his exploration of the impact of jihadism on a middle-class family is quietly devastating if not always engaging.
Dir. Mohamed Ben Attia
2018 | Tunisia | Drama | 104 mins | 2.35:1 | Arabic
Not rated (likely to be PG13)
Cast: Mohamed Dhrif, Imen Cherif, Zakaria Ben Ayyed, Mouna Mejri
Plot: A Tunisian middle-class couple with high hopes for the future of their only son discover he’s left to join ISIS in Syria.
Awards: Official Selection – Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes)
International Sales: Luxbox
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia’s Dear Son, his sophomore feature after Hedi (2016) won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival, is minimalist to a fault and could benefit from a tighter edit.
There are a few scenes where nothing much happens, often in the dark as the lead character Riadh—a father who is about to retire and whose young son has inexplicably gone missing—quietly treads around his apartment, or in another part of the film, in an unspecified lodging far away from home.
He is shattered by the loss of his son to the lure of jihadism, a word mentioned probably only once in the entire film. In fact, to call Dear Son a story about terrorism is to do it a disservice.
Tunisia’s official submission to the Oscars for Best International Feature.
After all, Ben Attia has taken pains to make his film as unexceptional (in the best sense of the word) as possible, in order to show the quiet devastation and psychological toll on a middle-class family with high hopes for their only son.
Dear Son is not always engaging, but it boasts a nuanced performance by Mohamed Dhrif who plays Riadh. It’s interesting to learn that the Dardenne brothers served as producers of the film, and in fact, explored similar themes in their latest award-winning effort, Young Ahmed (2019).
Premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, Dear Son ultimately explores the incommunicability of parent and child that leads to an irreversible consequence.