Dardenne brothers are well known for their films that focus on issues affecting the youngsters. THE SON, THE CHILD, THE KID WITH A BIKE, and THE UNKNOWN GIRL – all the films portrayed the problems of youngsters and how the society reacted to them.
In his latest film YOUNG AHMED, screened in competition in Cannes this year, the filmmaker duo catch the burning subject of radicalization of young minds, driving them to violence and their destruction and deliver a highly poignant and powerful film.
Young Ahmed and his cousin come in contact with a local grocer in a small Belgium town who also doubles up as local Imam. His teachings charge the young minds with venom and hatred against those, especially muslims, who do not follow the tenets and practices of Wahabi Islam where the women are impure and remain subjugated. Ahmed has reached the stage of radicalization when he berates his own mother and the teacher.
The Imam feels that the school teacher who also teaches Arabic to the local children through books and singing verses from Quran will be a threat to his authority as she stands for an inclusive Islam in which there is space for others too. He sets up his wards Ahmed and his cousin to question the teacher during her class and humiliate her for marrying a Jew. The teacher should be stopped at any cost. And, Ahmed should stand hard and fast to finish this solemn duty to God.
The young boy hides a knife in his shoe and tries to stab the teacher. He was caught and sent to the Children’s correctional facility where his mentor and psychologist tries to wean him away from the poisonous preaching injected in his mind. He is assigned to work in a farm, finds a spark with the young girl but tells her that she has to convert to Islam and wear the Hijab covering her full body. The filmmakers capture the depth of his radicalization by simply portraying the ferocity of his pre-prayer ablutions – something, which is always performed in peace and surrender.
Ahmed has to fulfill the unfinished task of stopping the teacher from teaching Arabic to the local children. For that he has to get out of the correctional facility and the custody of his mentor. So he manages to run away from the car and reach the residence of the teacher. He also manages to unplug an iron hook from the wall to attack her. But he has to climb the wall, go through the tiled roof and jump down to accost her. In this process, he falls down breaks his back and the very teacher whom he planned to attack calls for an ambulance. Ahmed had to look into her eyes and apologize as a last gesture.
The film could have been an action film or a film filled with hatred. The Dardenne duo is aware of the sensitiveness of the story and invests all their experience in dealing with the issues of young adolescents to make it a true portrayal of the problem, without rancor and violence. The smooth narrative and the layers, the family, the school, the correctional facility and the mentor, the lawyer, psychologist – the State should find a way to control the so called part time Imams imported into the country who sow seeds for destabilization of young minds.