Four Daughters (2024) | Review

Kaouther Ben Hania's documentary of a split family is a creatively engaging session of family therapy between radically different generations.

Four Daughters (2024) | Review
Source: The Movie Database

Synopsis: A Tunisian mother’s two eldest daughters run away from home to fight with the Islamic State.

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

Four Daughters is an interesting mix of fact, drama, recreation, and familial therapy. Kaouther Ben Hania’s film explores why two of Olfa Hamrouni’s daughters choose to join the Islamic State and the resulting impact their decision has on their family in an uncommonly light tone that doesn’t compromise on genuine emotion.

We start by meeting Olfa and her daughters Eya and Tayssir. They’re each excited at the film’s premise despite the pain it will put them through: Kaouther Ben Hania wants to tell their story by hiring actors to portray Olfa and her lost daughters (Rahma and Ghofrane) in dramatic reconstructions of key events. It presents a unique experience of an actor learning to become someone, and that same person reflecting on their actions as they’re performed again in front of them. There are natural moments when everything becomes too real for at least one person on screen and things are paused or talked through more.

Events become creatively nebulous as a single story can cut between interviews given to camera, dramatic reconstructions (including pre and post-take action), news footage, and ‘backstage’ banter between the actors and the family. Occasionally Olfa will remain in camera shot as her performer (Hend Sabri) acts out a scene before interjecting with corrections or, towards the end of the film, replacing her entirely. However, this doesn't always serve the overall story well. While I was engaged by the changing nature of the shots presented, my focus was always shifting - recontextualising what I saw into how it should be digested. This technical interesting exercise frequently pushed the evolving story of Olfa's daughters growing apart from her to the background.

screencap from four daughters
Source: The Movie Database

What else, then, is in the foreground? The many sides of Olfa which are shown with a healthy amount of questioning from her acting counterpart. Olfa is a caring mother with an entertainingly foul mouth although her reactions to some events and the changing gender politics in Tunisia can be suddenly violent. Her past relationships are quickly explored (including a hilarious story of her wedding night with her first husband) and while we genuinely get to know the family, the direction for the first hour of the film is muddled beneath getting the audience on board with its approach. Eya and Tayssir reach either breakthroughs or at least outbursts by the film's end but these came after too many light scenes of socialising with their sister-actors.

I still recommend Four Daughters and it will be an engaging watch for many people who have binged the standard Netflix fair of documentaries and docuseries. Hopefully Hania will keep and streamline this approach so deeper issues audiences must be caught up to speed with can have their share of the spotlight among the effective relationship building and exploration.

Source: YouTube