Indoctrination of a teenager into a dangerous extremist Muslim is the subject of the engrossing character study by the Belgian director-writer brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Those familiar with their past work know how skillful the Dardennes can be in creating a gripping atmosphere while unfolding a story that reveals so much about whatever aspect of the human condition on which they choose to concentrate.
In “Young Ahmed,” shown in the 57th New York Film Festival prior to its commercial release, the Dardennes focus on the intense journey of 13-year-old Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi), son of a white mother (Claire Bodson) and an absent Arab father. At an impressionable age, Ahmed, who lives in a small Belgian town, falls under the influence of a local imam, Youssouf (Othmane Moumen), and becomes ultra religious and a believer in jihad.
Ahmad takes to praying five times a day, berates his mother for drinking, considers his sister slutty for the way she dresses, and adopts twisted aspects of the Muslim religion. At school he has a sympathetic teacher, Inès (Myriem Akheddiou), but refuses to shake her hand because of the doctrine that he is not supposed to touch a woman.
So far that would just present difficulties that would become annoying to others, but Ahmed takes jihad so seriously that he becomes committed to killing the teacher. After an attempt goes awry, authorities attempt to straighten Ahmed out and as part of rehabilitation effort send him to a farm.
That’s as much, perhaps more than enough, than you need to know, except that Ahmed is not amenable to rehabilitation, which further fuels the plot that takes on an element of suspense. Still, the ability of the Dardennes to give a film depth engenders a measure of sympathy for Ahmed.
One can pity his falling victim to extremism even while absorbing a lesson in how vulnerable youths can become so indoctrinated that they grow into a menace on a larger scale than this one limited example that the Dardennes compellingly examine. A Kino Lorber release. Reviewed October 20, 2019.