YOU RESEMBLE ME movie poster | ©2022 Willa Productions

YOU RESEMBLE ME movie poster | ©2022 Willa Productions

Rating: Not rated
Stars: Lorenza Grimaudo, Illona Grimaudo, Mouna Soualem, Sabrina Ouazani, Dina Amer, Sana Sri, Alexandre Gonin, Djino Grimaudo, Nassima Benchicou
Writers: Dina Amer & Omar Mullick
Director: Dina Amer
Distributor: Willa Productions/Vice Studios
Release Date: November 11, 2022

“What kind of person does these things?” someone asks about a terrorist. YOU RESEMBLE ME is here to provide one answer. It is a singular answer, not even attempting to cover all possible responses, but a convincing one.

The real Hasna Ait Boulahcen was twenty-six years old when she died in an explosion in Paris, France in November, 2015. At the time, Ait Boulahcen was labeled in the press “France’s first female suicide bomber” before it was discovered that she was not responsible (at least directly) for the blast that also killed two men in the apartment with her.

The film YOU RESEMBLE ME explores how and why Hasna wound up where she did. As a little girl, Hasna (Lorenza Grimaudo) lives with slightly younger sister Mariam (Illona Grimaudo), slightly older brother Youssef (Djino Grimaudo), a toddler baby brother, and Moroccan immigrant mother Amina (Sana Sri) in a small Paris apartment.

Hasna loves cowbow movies, which has good guys shooting bad guys. She detests the lyrics of “La Marseilles,” feeling that they indicate fear of people just like her. She cheers on a Muslim boy who beats up a non-Muslim boy who has insulted Islam in a neighborhood basketball game.

Amina, who is mentally unstable, has an unpleasant habit of taking anything her children might possess, including clothing they are wearing at the time.

When Hasna stands up for Mariam, Amina throws her older daughter out, and Mariam goes with her sister. The two children, who adore each other, survive out on the street for a little while. Then they are scooped up by Social Services and sent to live in foster care.

While we are shown no physical abuse, Hasna’s foster family can fairly be described as insensitive (one doesn’t have to be an expert on the Muslim religion to know that pork is forbidden). As a result, Hasna continues to run away.

As an adult, Hasna (played by alternately by Mouna Soualem, Sabrina Ouazani, and filmmaker Dina Amer) has little education, connections, or means. She winds up living with her friend Sonia (Nassima Benchicou), but is aimless – until she sees her cousin Hamid (Alexandre Gonin) on television. Hasna reaches out. Hamid is glad to hear from her. And he seems to offer purpose, belonging, even love.

Director Dina Amer and her co-writer Omar Mullick create a persuasive narrative of how easily someone alienated from society can be drawn into a cause. The cast is strong, with exceptional performances from the Grimaudo sisters as young Hasna and young Mariam.

Amer’s filmmaking technique incorporates multiple styles, going from documentary-type naturalism, with the camera picking up sometimes chaotic action, to surrealism in Hasna’s fantasies and dreams.

However, the decision to cast multiple actors as the adult Hasna adds nothing to our understanding of her. We hardly need this to illustrate that she employs different personas, depending on who she’s with and her surroundings. Instead, it’s confusing, as we keep waiting to see Mariam again and wonder if one of the Hasnas is instead her sister.

This also keeps us at a remove. We’re conscious of the filmmakers experimenting for what seems to be experimentation’s sake; we’re watching technique rather than what the technique is meant to show us.

Amer and company switch to literal documentary at the end, featuring brief interviews with several Ait Boulahcen family members.

YOU RESEMBLE ME tells a fascinating story. It mostly works, despite the aforementioned artistic choices. The film is in French and Arabic, with subtitles.

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