In 2016, Olfa Hamrouni, a Tunisian woman, courageously shared her story of loss and despair. Her two elder daughters, Ghofrane and Rahma Chikhaoui, had left home to join the Islamic State, becoming part of a distressing trend of radicalized young Tunisians. "Four Daughters," a powerful meta-documentary directed by Kaouther Ben Hania, delves into this tragic tale, highlighting the remarkable resilience of Hamrouni and her two younger daughters, Eya and Tayssir Chikhaoui.
A Bold Narrative
Olfa Hamrouni’s refusal to remain silent and her call for accountability from local authorities challenged the culture of shame that had silenced many like her. Seven years later, she remains outspoken. In "Four Daughters," Hamrouni, Eya, and Tayssir recount the mystery and tragedy of their sisters’ disappearance. They reminisce about moments both joyful and painful, sometimes with humor and sometimes with the raw emotions of fresh wounds.
A Blend of Reality and Fiction
"Four Daughters" is a unique blend of documentary and metafiction, an innovative approach that unfolds within the confines of a few rooms. The documentary captures Hamrouni, Eya, and Tayssir describing Ghofrane and Rahma to actors Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui, who portray the missing daughters. Hamrouni sometimes steps in, providing context and participating in reenactments. The film also features Egyptian Tunisian actor Hend Sabri, who portrays Hamrouni in scenes where her involvement is too emotionally challenging.
Olfa Hamrouni emerges as a witty, magnetic screen presence, challenging stereotypes of docile Arab Muslim femininity. The documentary presents moments of her defiance, like a memorable scene from her wedding night, where she ingeniously subverts traditional expectations.
Complex Mother-Daughter Dynamics
The documentary delves into the complex relationships between mothers and daughters in a predominantly Muslim society. Hamrouni’s candid acknowledgment of her own heavy-handedness and anxieties about her daughters’ blossoming sexuality provides a contrasting backdrop to her post-marital affair, where she proudly asserts her erotic desires.
Cultural Tensions and Rebellion
"Four Daughters" explores the conflicted feelings of the women regarding hijabs and niqabs, garments that have generated disputes in Tunisia. Ghofrane’s goth phase and Rahma’s obsession with moral purity represent twin extremes influenced by both cultural specifics and universal mother-daughter tensions.
The Tragic Motive
Perhaps the most chilling revelation in the documentary is the suggestion that, for Ghofrane and Rahma, religious radicalization became their form of rebellion. It’s as if their mother’s overwhelming nature couldn’t be defeated; it could only be eclipsed.
An Emotional Journey
The real Ghofrane and Rahma are not present to speak for themselves, leaving their motives shrouded in mystery. The movie’s formal conceit of using actors to step into their roles creates a poignant juxtaposition of consolation and absence. As Matar and Karoui grow in confidence, they almost convince you that a happily reunited family is before you, but this illusion is continually shattered, especially when Eya and Tayssir express their persistent love and lingering anger for their missing sisters.
In "Four Daughters’ review: A powerful meta-documentary," Kaouther Ben Hania skillfully weaves a narrative of strength and contradictions, providing a powerful glimpse into the lives of the Chikhaoui family. This documentary is a testament to their resilience, challenging stereotypes and shedding light on the complex dynamics of mother-daughter relationships within a unique cultural context.
Challenging Stereotypes and Embracing Complexity
Is ‘Four Daughters’ a Docudrama?
In the exploration of "Four Daughters," a docudrama experiment emerges, bringing real emotional warmth and human sympathy to the forefront. Despite its minor imperfections, this film delves into the tragic story from Tunisia, aiming to bridge the gap between actors and real-life characters. By getting actors to portray the individuals involved in this heart-wrenching narrative, ‘Four Daughters’ blurs the lines between fiction and reality, creating a compelling cinematic experience.
What is Ben Hania’s ‘Four Daughters’ About?
Kaouther Ben Hania’s ‘Four Daughters’ goes beyond mere dramatization. It serves a dual purpose as a therapeutic exercise and a reflection on the intricacies of the filmmaking process. While the film excels in its therapeutic intent, its footing on the cinematic front may be less secure, creating a thought-provoking yet potentially uncertain narrative journey.
What is the Most Emotive Aspect of ‘Four Daughters’?
The most stirring aspect of "Four Daughters" quickly unfolds in the genuine, unscripted moments where the women interact with the actors. The introduction of "Ghofran" and "Rahma" sparks a rollercoaster of emotions in the mother and sisters, as they are both elated and profoundly moved by the striking resemblance of these on-screen avatars to their missing loved ones.
What’s Bracing About ‘Four Daughters’?
The refreshing aspect of "Four Daughters" lies in its portrayal of the women as equals. This equality is evident in their spirited and confrontational discussions, their shared presence in the frame, and their freedom to choose their attire. The film champions their individuality and agency, breaking away from traditional norms.
What is the Movie ‘Four Daughters’ About?
"Four Daughters" explores the poignant and intricate narrative of a Tunisian family grappling with the radicalization of two of their daughters. The film delves into the emotional turmoil and resilience of the Chikhaoui family, as they use a unique docudrama approach to bridge the gap between actors and real-life characters, challenging stereotypes and highlighting the complexities of mother-daughter relationships in a predominantly Muslim society.
Deciphering the Narrative Technique in ‘Four Daughters’
The narrative technique employed in ‘Four Daughters’ embraces a first-person perspective and a straightforward, unembellished storytelling approach. Alphonse, the central character, serves as both the narrator and protagonist, offering a firsthand account as he engages with the four daughters of a well-to-do family. This narrative style provides readers with a direct and personal connection to the characters and their interactions.