Venice Film Festival 2011 // La Désintégration

Curious Joe is at the Venice Film Festival. Check back here daily for sporadic film reviews and discussions of the arty variety.

Directed by Phillipe Faucon
Starring Kamel Laadaili, Yassine Azzouz and Rachid Debbouze
Country: France

Political films have one of the hardest jobs in cinema. Accurately portraying a series of events defined by the same ideas that divide society is very risky, with both sides more than ready to hold you to account.

Of course, being a native Scot, I might find it hard to compare the troubles of a fictional Arab-French family to any real life experience, but if there’s one thing La Désintégration is about, it’s that its metaphors represent much more than the plot line alone.

The screening was so popular some people had to sit on the floor

The film follows Ali, a French raised young adult from an Arab background, who finds himself brought under the influence of a very hardline Muslim extremist. Through his journey from struggling to find work in a racist job market, to getting involved in things much darker, what we see is a character-focused drama exploring the causes of extremism.

La Désintégration‘s biggest achievement is its ability to stay unbiased. The way it connects French society’s neglect of Arab communities to the backlash this creates is as fair as can be.

One of the most intriguing characters is the Mother, an old fashioned first generation migrant, who, while set in her religious ways, comes to terms with her other son marrying a non-Muslim French woman. By showing the Mother react in disgust to Ali’s refusal to shake the French woman’s hand, her character earns a whole new level of depth.

One of the film’s only major flaws is we perhaps don’t see enough of the Mother and the rest of the family. While they do a great job of highlighting the positive aspects of Islam (as opposed to the aggressive views of extremists we read about in the media), there was more scope for showing how these characters integrated into society, rather than just following Ali. In focusing almost solely on Ali, it kind of implies that the others found it pretty easy to integrate and as such, blame can only be left on the Islamist’s side, rather than society’s. But the fact of the matter is the film still does a good job of giving blame to French society as much as it does Islam.

La Désintégration is very natural and doesn’t force any filler, and most importantly, it lays appropriate blame on both sides for the causes of extremism. Those who blame either Islam or western society alone for modern day troubles have plenty to learn from this.

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