Four Daughters

Four Daughters ★★★★½

A huge entry in the “Movies are People” school of cinema for me. Watching it made me a more expansive person. It’s a compassion engine. A courageous act of truth telling on the part of these women, both to the audience and to one another. One of the very few things I know without any doubt is that women are stronger than men, and here we have a good contender for Exhibit A.

We get the “events” of their “story”, yes, and the arching context of it as well, but also, we get broad access into the intellectual and emotional lives of the Tunisian women at the center of the movie's gaze (and its reenactments). We get access to their feelings about their own generational trauma and how their past has both wounded and strengthened them. Watching them play, like teenage girls, donning and exploring fashion, but with the hijab and Niqāb, reinforces universal human tendencies and breaks down stock concepts about Arabic women. The whole thing kicks the rocks of the human social body over to challenge a ubiquitous Western narrative and highlight an inclusive global one. This machine works to kill stereotypes while lifting up the emotional sturdiness, intellectual strength, and dark history of this family.

The movie is ultimately more conversational than cinematic on its surface, and the actual reenactments are far and few between, but that’s precisely what makes it so powerful, there’s a sense that we’re being allowed in on a deep, ranging, personal conversation.

Right now this feels like my favorite movie of the year. At the very least, it’s the first documentary I’ve seen to use docudrama at this level of artistry and effectiveness since Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing”.

Not to say that this is as ambitious or wide-reaching as “The Act of Killing”, but like Openheimer’s film, this uses fictional recreations to illuminate larger truths, not just about the story being told, but about the culture the story is taking place in. The movie uses its formalism to illuminate the full and universal humanity of the story in a way very few traditional non-fiction passes on the material could’ve achieved.

Also, poor Majd Mastoura, hats off to the actor. He has to play almost every piece of shit man these women ever encountered.

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