Young Ahmed (2019)

The story of a radicalised young boy who desires to kill his schoolteacher is rendered with subtle but powerful strokes, making this one of the Dardennes’ most relevant films.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,156

Dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
2019 | Belgium/France | Drama | 84 mins | 1.85:1 | French & Arabic
M18 (passed clean) for mature content

Cast: Idir Ben Addi, Olivier Bonnaud, Myriem Akheddiou
Plot: A Belgian teenager hatches a plot to kill his teacher after embracing an extremist interpretation of the Quran.
Awards: Won Best Director & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch (SG: Anticipate Pictures)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature – Religious Extremism
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector – European Film Festival
Spoilers: No

The Dardennes have been making films for decades with a social impact slant or as dramatised responses, implicitly or otherwise, to issues of society, family and politics through authentically-realised narratives and characters. 

In Young Ahmed, the duo tackle what could be the most sensitive subject matter yet—that of religious radicalisation of youths as we follow Ahmed, who desires to kill his schoolteacher after being indoctrinated with violent, racist ideologies by a local imam. 

It’s a highly relevant film, and as we Singaporeans recently wise up to the fact that youth radicalisation here is a clear and present danger, Young Ahmed is as timely as it gets and essential viewing.  The Dardennes, in their usual fashion, don’t pass any judgment, letting us do the dirty work instead. 

“Will they lock me up for long?”
“No, you’re young. A month or two.”

Even then, as audiences, we find it as difficult to judge Ahmed as it is to empathise with him.  So the film, at least for me, offers an interesting provocation: what does it mean to truly understand another person?  And might it be an indictment of our own naivety when we empathise without judgment? 

Young Ahmed builds to an unexpectedly powerful epilogue that raises more questions about the nature of trust, forgiveness and love in the context of its destructive if more expressive polar opposites—betrayal, contempt and hate. 

Radicalisation is a hot-button issue that is extremely challenging to tackle, let alone solve, by any country in the world.  But through Young Ahmed, we have an opportunity to open our eyes to the problem, stripped of any distraction and politicking.  Here’s a child who already knows what he wants to do with his life—how scary is that?

Grade: A-


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