Now in release is “Fatima,” the most sensitive and nuanced film of those that I experienced among selections in this year’s annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance. “Fatima” definitely belongs in the special category of a work that should command attention for what it has to say and how it says it.
Soria Zeroual gives a memorable performance as Fatima, who is a Moroccan divorced mother working hard with impossible hours as a house cleaner to support herself and her two daughters. It is a performance the touches the heart as well as etches a portrait that reflects the plight of so many who are in similar positions.
Directed by Philippe Faucon, “Fatima” is inspired by a true story and the poetry of the North African writer Fatima Elayoubi. The film follows the intense struggle of the middle-aged Fatima to get along in the face of economic and pressures and racism directed against minority families.
The film also captures mother-daughter problems, as offspring may tend to look out for themselves and take for granted what their mother must cope with in looking after them and finding the money needed. The older daughter, 18-year-old Nesrine, played excellently by Zita Hanrot) works diligently as a medical student, but the younger sister, 15-year-old Souad, well-acted by Kenza-Noah Aïch, selfishly seethes with resentment against her mother and is embarrassed that her mother is a cleaning woman.
There are also cultural issues. Souad as a teenager wants to wear sexy clothes and fit in with the image teens hold in adapting to France. Her mother wants to uphold her conservative traditions. Such clashes are not confined to the family depicted here—there are plenty of mother-daughter tensions in the U.S.—but the particulars of the challenges of North African immigrants to be accepted and integrated add to the film’s dimension.
Although “Fatima” unfolds as a personal drama, one can see the film in light of what we read about concerning the France of today and the problems immigrants face. Through it all shines the quietly detailed depiction of a mother struggling to make a better world for herself and her daughters by taking whatever job is necessary to live and in the process fighting to retain her dignity as a human being. The profound performance by Soria Zeroual ennobles her. Amazingly, Zeroual is a non-professional actress wisely chosen by the director as the center of the film. It may have been a gamble, but the choice has certainly paid off. “Fatima” stands tall among films seen this year. A Kino Lorber release. Reviewed August 26, 2016.