CANNES FESTIVAL – “Young Ahmed,” a story of mental bondage

It’d be understandable to want to interpret the new Dardenne Brothers movie as finger-pointing at the insidious and virulent strain of religiosity that’s going around the world right now, that is, Islamism. But enslavement, of the mind (to someone else’s viewpoint, a submission to a code of beliefs that’s toxic, that will make you do irrational things, like commit murder) and, more to the point, whether redemption from said enslavement is possible, is more the central idea of this pleasurable new opus by the directors of “Kid with the bike.”

The Ahmed of the title lives in a Belgian town. He’d be considered a normal teen if he hadn’t become an Islamist zealot. Ahmed is chummy with local extremist Imam and idolizes a cousin gone to die (a “martyr”) in Syria. In the dystopia of Ahmed’s mind, people who die fighting infidels are martyrs, good Muslims, Infidels, and bad Muslims, considered traitors, are the only available categories. Lost in this perverse mentality Ahmed calls his mother an alcoholic and his sister a slut and his teacher an Infidel. When he finds out that she is teaching Arab using music, he sets out to murder her. Society, and the authorities, step in to put an end to this.

It would be hard not to draw parallels between Molenbeek, the immigrant neighborhood of Brussels where several jihadis have hailed from and would later commit atrocities in France and in Belgium, and the events in “Young Ahmed,” although the town of the film remains nameless. A Dardenne film is a mirror, not reality itself.

The brothers have directed a slow but nuanced film, “Young Ahmed” is a relevant and necessary commentary on the times we live in, on how the law and society at large confronts the problem of radicalization, and what happens when a young mind becomes poisoned by irrational beliefs. Had Ahmed been a member of a Christian church or Scientology, he would’ve deserved our contempt and pity just as richly. Except that the new Christian movements never killed anyone and Scientologists are off, not murderous.