Young Ahmed (2019)
A Belgian teenager hatches a plot to kill his teacher after embracing an extremist interpretation of the Quran.
XX Century, Modern France/Belgium
- Dardenne brothers, the living classics of modern European cinema, winners of the Best Director Award for the film “Young Ahmed” at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival
- Dardennes’ world of cinema is a reflection on the problems and challenges of modern European society. Will it be the problem of migration (Lorna’s Silence) or religious extremism (Young Ahmed), is taking an increasingly radical form in Europe and the world, as showed up by recent events in Europe (Charlie Hebdo).
- In on of the interviews about “Young Ahmed”, Dardennes said: “Choosing Ahmed as protagonist allowed us to show spectators how a hate-based idea is implanted in the mind and body of a teenager.”
- Ahmed is a generalized figure who may live in any country or city of the world with any religion.
- The film was preceded by important political and social events. Recall the tragedy of January 7, 2015: the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo”, which published a cartoon of Muhammad in its weekly edition, was attacked by two Islamist gunmen, who forced their way into the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing twelve.
- According to the directors, the recent terrorist and extremist events in Belgium and France have been the main inspiration and to some extent the catalyst for the creation of the film. Their film is artistic reflection on the above mentioned events.
- A distorted interpretation of a religious text (in this case, the Qur’an) fundamentally changes a teenager’s life and possible “healthy” way of development. Imam constantly reminds Ahmed of his mission! At the beginning of the film, how ready is the young man to carry out the set plan?
- What is the relationship between Ahmed and his school teacher? Why does a teenager choose to target someone who really cares about and is kind to him?
- The imam constantly repeats and reminds Ahmed of his fallen cousin, why do you think he behaves like that, why does he want to constantly control the memory of teenager? Why does not Imam allow Ahmed to forget this fact?
- Ahmed’s mother often drinks alcohol and boy has a tense relationship with his sister. In the case of a harmonious relationship with his family, would 13-year-old boy become an “ideological captive” of a local imam?
- How and in what form does a hate-based idea take root in a young person’s mind?
- After an unsuccessful attempt to kill a teacher, psychologists and social workers take care of the rehabilitation of the guilty teenager. While on the farm, Ahmed meets his peer girl Louise. Does the boy’s behavior and thoughts change after meeting her?
- In other films by Dardenne brothers, we often see characters who appear to help the protagonists to “change”, showing them the right way to go on with their lives. In Ahmed’s case, which character in the film can we consider as such a “helper”?
- Throughout the film, the audience is tense, does not know how the events unfold, this kind of suspense is replaced by a “sudden” ending… Why do the directors treat the character like this and how acceptable is the ending of the film to you?
- In your opinion, is “Young Ahmed” criticism of Islam or the religion / ideology that takes a radical form?
Write about this film
Four years before the film was made, in 2015, there was a terrorist attack on the editorial office of “Charlie Hebdo”. After this fact, the modern European society once again thought about how risky it is to openly and publicly express its opinion towards another religion. What is a free expression for one, becomes a very personal, faith insult to another. When writing about the film, focus on the age of the protagonist, why directors choose a teenager boy. He is in very special age, when teenagers are looking for new ideals and authorities. In the case of Ahmed, this ideal (Imam) becomes synonymous with fundamentalism and religious fanaticism. Think about it, would anything change if Ahmed were the girl in the movie? Why can’t Ahmed fulfill the “mission”, how free the protagonist is and the society in which he co-exists.
For Individual work
Following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, some critics have called Dardenne brothers’ new work unconvincing, with some even accusing it of Islamophobia altogether. We recommend you to watch Dardennes’ other films “The Child”, “Rosetta”, “Two Days, One Night”, “The Kid with a Bike”, “The Unknown Girl” and think about why directors choose a 13-year-old to pursue the idea of radicalism and extremism. Importantly, non-professional actors often play the lead roles in Dardennes’ films, as is the case with Ahmed. How much does the main character understand the set “mission”.
Group work/additional activities
Curriculum links: History, Civic Education
It is recommended to discuss with the teacher the current social and political events in modern Europe and the world in the context of the radical manifestation of Islam. Discuss in the context of world history, when and why the confrontation between different religious denominations, states and ordinary people took place. Why and how does religion become fanatical and when does it take on an extremist form. In addition, a teacher of a particular subject can turn a war on religious reasons into a topic of discussion and then focus on modernity. Give specific examples from modern socio-political processes when dealing with extremist interpretations of the Holy Books (Quran, Bible, Torah).
After the discussion and work in groups students can give to a narrative a visual form of wall newspaper or an presentation. You can convey religious extremism and radicalism, using specific examples and your own interpretation, taking into account historical, political, social and cultural contexts.
As a result of watching the film, discussion and writing a review in which it is necessary to use epoch-making contexts and the above recommendations, the student will be more aware of radical extremism and the danger of replicating this topic with young people.