Four Daughters

Tunisia’s harrowing Oscar nominated documentary Four Daughters is a trip in the sense that you never know what to expect from it. It’s a sympathetic filmmaking experiment that aims to work as closure for its subjects but, along the way, rediscovers old family wounds that also need to be addressed.

After single mother Olfa’s eldest daughters Ghofrane and Rahma disappear after being radicalized by Islamic State, she vies to come to terms with this outstanding issue while also supporting her youngest daughters Eya and Tayssir. Director Kaouther Ben Hania offers assistance with filmed dramatizations, casting actors to portray the absent daughters and giving Olfa an understudy for when the retelling becomes too upsetting. Part of the magic of Four Daughters is the careful art of this casting. Almost immediately after the film’s subjects meet their acting partners, chemistry erupts. The actors are so striking that, without a hint of hesitation, the film’s subjects accept them as family. Apart from these group reenactments, the audience also gets to observe the actors’ attempts to identify with the trauma and respect their given roles in private. Watching Olfa’s substitute listen to an interview with the real Olfa while the film intercuts to footage of the actual testimonial is a brilliant move that establishes the stakes at hand.

When the past is revisited, however, the production is faced with stories of child abuse; memories that the siblings have suppressed that Olfa shrugs off otherwise. Hend Sabri, who plays Olfa’s stand-in, is very outspoken about the parenting tactics, initiating debates between the identical women. When another stand-in needs to leave the scene to compose himself, Eya and Tayssir criticize the emotional strength of the actor, resulting in a self-reflection that happens in-the-moment.

Despite adapting to several tangents that were undoubtably intimidating for everyone involved with this documentary, Four Daughters always has a plan in mind. Kaouther Ben Hania loyally sticks to her remedying vision for this project, and the audience genuinely feels like the doc is making a difference for its brave and vulnerable subjects.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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