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Boy without a father

Sitting among the New York critics at a screening of Young Ahmed, a film about Islam

Boy without a father

Idir Ben Addi (left) and Othmane Moumen in Young Ahmed. (Les Films du Fleuve)

A New York moment: 

The press screenings for the New York Film Festival have begun, and on Monday I screened a new film by the Dardenne brothers. The film, called Young Ahmed, is about a teenage boy trying to embrace radical Islam. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are considered the “Coen brothers of Europe,” and we published a feature last year on their spiritually infused films. 

Many of the films the Dardennes write and produce focus on the relationship between fathers and sons. Often they focus on middle-school-age boys struggling with their identity. In Young Ahmed, our middle-school protagonist’s father is absent, and his mom sighs at one point that Ahmed wouldn’t be running after extremist ideologies if his father were around. It’s a fascinating and complex film, and fits in just right with the Dardennes’ other films about boys with absent fathers, such as The Kid With a Bike

But at the end of the New York screening, the (white) critic in front of me dismissed the film as a portrayal of Islam from “problematic white men.” Another reviewer afterward called it a “hateful, duplicitous little movie” full of “toxic Islamophobia.” That misses completely, I think, the religious nuance of what the Dardennes are doing here—their films tell the spiritual stories of Belgium, not just Catholic Belgium. And Young Ahmed depicts many different strains of Islam if the grouchy critics would pay closer attention.

But I shouldn’t be surprised if the New York reception of the film is overly political or self-righteous. What the Dardennes gave us is another philosophical pinprick about our own identities: our perceived righteousness and need for forgiveness.

Worth your time:  

This interactive tour of New York City’s block parties this summer is pure delight. 

This week I learned: 

I think of Krispy Kreme as a North Carolina institution, Peet’s Coffee as a California institution, and Panera Bread as a St. Louis institution (emerging from St. Louis Bread Company). But I learned this week that a German family’s company owns all of these brands, among others.

A court case you might not know about: 

Purdue Pharma, in a massive settlement that goes along with its bankruptcy filing, will continue to produce its trademark opioid OxyContin. But this time the company will operate as a public trust, so profits would go to those suing the company over its role in the drug crisis. 

Culture I am consuming: 

Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston, a nonfiction thriller about the 2014 Ebola outbreak. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org