VOD film review: You Resemble Me
Matthew Turner | On 12, Mar 2023
Director: Dina Amer
Cast: Lorenza Grimaudo, Ilonna Grimaudo, Mouna Soualem, Sabrina Ouazani, Dina Amer, Alexandre Gonin, Sana Sri
Debut director Dina Amer was a reporter for Vice News when the Paris bombings took place in 2015. When the police raided a Saint-Denis apartment building in pursuit of suspects, an explosion took place and a young woman, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, was killed, with the press rushing to label her “Europe’s first female suicide bomber”. In fact, although she had been radicalised, Hasna was not the suicide bomber, and could be heard on a recording begging to be allowed to leave.
In the wake of that incident, Amer interviewed Hasna’s friends and family members in an attempt to understand her life and the events that lead to her radicalisation. You Resemble Me is the result – a compelling drama that skilfully blends fact and fiction.
The story begins when Hasna was a little girl (superbly played by Lorenza Grimaudo), running around on the streets of Paris with her devoted younger sister, Mariam (Ilonna Grimaudo, Lorenza’s real-life sister, also heartbreakingly brilliant), in order to escape their abusive mother (Sana Sri). However, when the pair are captured by social services and placed in separate foster homes, it sets Hasna on a dark path.
The film then cuts, somewhat brutally, to a period several years later, with a still guilt-ridden Hasna (now played by Mouna Soualem) getting into trouble for dealing drugs and turning tricks, while crashing on a friend’s floor. After trying to turn her life around, but getting fired from a job and rejected by the army, Hasna is captivated when she sees her charismatic cousin (Alexandre Gonin) on TV, representing ISIS, and contacts him via social media.
Amer, who co-wrote the script with the film’s cinematographer, Omar Mullick, makes an extremely impressive directorial debut. The childhood scenes in particular are shot through with a frenetic and compelling energy, accentuated by skilful editing. Similarly, the narrative decision to suddenly cut to the future works brilliantly, because it hammers home the sudden loss of childhood innocence when Mariam is taken away.
The latter half of the film occasionally echoes the work of Ken Loach, as our down-on-her-luck lead repeatedly runs into unsympathetic or downright hostile authority figures, driving her into an ever more desperate situation. Along the way, there are moving little touches, such as the symbolism of Hasna’s continued affection for a cowboy hat throughout her life (she would later be dubbed the “cowgirl killer”).
Throughout the film, Amer plays fascinating games with identity. The script suggests there are “several Hasnas”, and Amer goes as far as occasionally morphing Soualem into different actors, including, at one point, the director herself. On a similar note, Amer and Soualem do a terrific job of showing how Hasna’s radicalisation gives her a sense of purpose, belonging and identity, without resorting to sensationalism or demonisation.
In short, this is a moving and compassionate drama, given extra emotional weight by the decision to end the film with real-life interviews and documentary footage. It also marks a highly promising debut for Amer and it will be fascinating to see what she does next.