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PostPosted: Tue Oct 25, 2016 5:14 am 
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Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar: Le ciel attendra/Heaven Will Wait (2016)

Losing daughters to radical Islam

At times borderline implausible because the behavior shown is so idiotic but no doubt true, Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar's new film Le ciel attendra ("Heaven Will Wait") describes two case studies of French girls who are recruited to go off to join Daish/ISIS (the Islamic State, الدولة الإسلامية). A sizable number of young Europeans, males as well as females, decide to become jihadists. (This doesn't consider the different motivations of boys who do it.) Fabien Lemercier points out in Cineurops that the French films La Désintégration and Inside the Cell have looked into a local cell planning an attack, and writer Thomas Bidegain's directorial debut Cowboys (NYFF 2015) and Rachid Bouchareb's Road to Istanbul have explored families who search for children who disappear into the world of Islamic terrorism. Mention-Schaar instead looks at one French girl being "radicalized" and another being "deradicalized." This isn't so much an in-depth feature film treatment as a (somewhat choppy) documentary-style fiction, based on real events, focused on the sufferings of two sets of bereaved parents and explaining how their loved ones went astray.

No one can deny the theme is timely, but as a film, this treatment is not altogether satisfying. A documentary, semi-instructional theme is masked with rapid cuts back and forth between the two girls and precipitous exaggerated closeups. Are we supposed to be being excited or is this meant to show the excitement of the girls and their worried family members? In any case, the style seems itself overexcited and unsubtle in the extreme, the scenes lacking in originality - except for images one will remember of the 15-year-old girl being seduced on her smart phone (during class, when her phone was supposed to be turned off) by a handsome young Muslim "prince" who fills her mind with lies and hogwash, then dressing up in nun-like fundamentalist black garb and playing her cello. One might contrast Bruno Dumont's much subtler and more original film of 2009, Hadewijch (NYFF 2009). Dumont approaches his subject crabwise, interestingly broadening perspective by intermixing Christianity and Islam.

The focus here is on Sonia (Noémie Merlant), who's under house arrest after having been apprehended by French police before departing for Syria. Together with her French mother and Arab father (Sandrine Bonnaire and Zinedine Soualem) she is reindoctrinated (while we are lectured) by a real-life specialist in these cases, Dounia Bouzar (directer of a "center for the prevention of Islamic-based sectarianism"). The youngster being converted whose story is inter cut with Sonia's is the timid, homely Mélanie (Naomi Amarger), who dreams of changing the world - and, gradually, of instead becoming the chaste love-child of a dashing Arab Islamist who feeds her (oral, French) messages of seduction and indoctrination via Facebook. The film goes back and forth in time, focuses in the present on Mélanie's suffering mother (Clotilde Courau) while constantly flashing back to scenes of Mélanie in her bedroom or the classroom; her "Prince" is there via handheld device in both places. (How excellent such devices seem for brainwashing or hypnosis, and how like puppets young people sometimes look walking around staring at their electronic breviaries!)

But according to the screenplay, by Emilie Frèche, it is not certain which this film is calculated to do: convey information or instill panic. It might be nice to see some films about Europeans recruited to the traditional Islam of love and peace, or Muslims who are good citizens. I noted in my review of Daniel Leconte's It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks (NYFF 2008), the Muslim population of France is the highest in Europe and makes up seven to ten percent of the total. Lately, though, the terrorist attacks that have taken place in France have made my declaration that Muslims in France are more confident there than in the US a little less convincing.

Studio Ciné Live is right when its reviewer says this film's effort to make the topic "cinegenic" turns its tory into a kind of "Jihadism for Dummies." This breathless account is not as enlightening or searching as it could be, and its undertone of hysteria is troubling, turning into another kind of indoctrination. Craziness needs to be fought with sanity. As Les Inrocks points out, the films is at its best when it points out the subtle stages by which a young mind can move from criticism of society to religious extremism. Isn't that what Bruno Dumont, in his sui generis manner, is doing much more fully and artistically in Hadewijch?

Le ciel attendra/Heaven Will Wait, 90 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2016; other festivals, Angoulême, Toronto, Busan and Tokyo. Released in French theaters 5 Oct. 2016. Reviews were enthusiastic: AlloCiné press rating 3.7/28.

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