Through their production company—Istiqlal Films, inspired by the Arabic word for “independence”—Philippe Faucon and partner Yasmina Nini-Faucon have amassed multiple portraits of young people, especially immigrants, in France. Fatima adds another trim chapter to Faucon’s catalog of social dramas with its affecting, highly focused story of a hard-working first-generation Moroccan mother, Fatima, and her two teenage daughters in Lyon. Where other family stories might relegate Fatima to a mere tragic, taciturn role, Faucon gives her a voice, no doubt empowered by the script’s source, two books by Fatima Elayoubi.
Fatima (Soria Zeroual) cleans houses to put Nesrine (Zita Henrot) through her medical studies and to support Souad (Kenza Noah), who keeps skipping high school. Daily life is a tiring foot race for Fatima as she keeps a close, caring eye on her daughters. She supplies Nesrine with food and encouragement as Nesrine moves into a new apartment, and tries to rein in the rebellious Souad; one foot in old and new, Fatima still feels the pressure of neighbors’ opinions. Shooting with lovely lighting, Faucon builds each scene outward from moments of love and frustration, rather than imposing a narrative of grace or relying upon cheap suspense.
There’s a certain kind of tepid French social drama that flaunts its conscientious sensitivity and sense of social justice. Not so here: Faucon’s clear-eyed film, working with matter-of-fact nonprofessionals, simply gets to the heart of the matter.