A Journey through Kaouther Ben Hania’s ‘Four Daughters’

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(Photos: ‘Four Daughters’)
In a groundbreaking achievement, Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania has secured two Oscar nominations, making her the first Arab woman to achieve this milestone, after recently winning best documentary at the César Awards.اضافة اعلان

 Her docufiction, "Four Daughters," delves into the emotional journey of Olfa Hamrouni, a Tunisian mother coping with the disappearance of her daughters into the ranks of Daesh.

During my interview with Ben Hania at the 3rd Red Sea International Film Festival in December 2023, she provided insights into her return to documentary filmmaking, the bold choices made in Four Daughters, and the ethical considerations behind the movie.

Four Daughters, backed by the Red Sea Fund, has earned a place in the official nominations for the 96th Academy Awards in the Best Documentary Feature Film category. It stands as the sole Arab contender in this edition of the Oscars, set for March 10, 2024.

Premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, Four Daughters intimately portrays the story of hope and rebellion within the Chikhaoui family, receiving acclaim with awards like the Golden Eye for Best Documentary at the Gotham International Festival and the Asharq Award for Best Documentary at the Red Sea International Film Festival.

The movie seamlessly blends documentary and drama, showcasing the remarkable presence of renowned actress Hend Sabry.

The narrative revolves around Olfa's four teenage daughters, who left Tunisia to join Daesh in Libya. Alongside Hend Sabry, the cast includes Nour Karoui, Ishrak Matar, and Majd Mastoura. Director Ben Hania played a pivotal role in scripting and personally handling the editing of the movie. The collaborative effort involved Tunisia, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, with production credits going to TANIT FILMS, CINETELEFILMS, TWENTY TWENTY VISION, RED SEA FILM FESTIVAL Foundation, ZDF/ARTE, and JOUR2FÊTE. Movie distribution was handled by the Film Clinic in the Arab world and globally by The Party Film Sales.

Exploring complex narratives
Four Daughters intricately unravels the story of Olfa Hamrouni and her two daughters’ journey into radicalization. In an exclusive interview, I-Jordan News explored the inspiration that drove the director to tackle this multifaceted and challenging narrative.

Ben Hania noted that the movie’s objective is to illuminate the human side of extremism and its profound impact on families. She said, “Rooted in real-life events, my aim was to delve into the themes of radicalization, family dynamics, and the broader consequences of extremism.”

Cannes Film Festival premiere
Four Daughters received widespread acclaim following its premiere at the 76th Cannes Film Festival. I sought insights into the audience's response and the movie’s exploration of complex themes.

Ben Hania highlighted, “The Cannes audience warmly embraced the movie’s emotional depth and exploration of complex themes. The depiction of the human experience in Four Daughters resonated, sparking discussions on radicalization and its effects on individuals and families.”

Historic Oscar nominations
Reflecting on her achievement, Ben Hania mentioned, "Every recognition is special, but being the first Arab woman with two Oscar nominations is a historic moment for me and the industry. It underscores the power of storytelling to bridge cultural gaps and address pressing issues.”

Meta-commentary in movies
Four Daughters garners acclaim for its underlying meta-commentary beneath the emotional storytelling surface. Ben Hania revealed the decisions shaping the movie’s unique structure and storytelling approach.

"The movie is a deconstruction on multiple levels, dissecting the story, family structure, and the filmmaking process. Embracing the reenactment trope, I aimed for honesty with the audience, purposefully using it for the movie's benefit.”

Ethical considerations in moviemaking
Addressing ethical concerns, Ben Hania emphasized the importance of providing a secure space for subjects and actors involved in the emotionally challenging process of creating Four Daughters. The shoot prioritized creating a safe environment for everyone involved and incorporating active therapy for real characters to preemptively address potential issues. The characters retained control over the narrative, ensuring a respectful and collaborative movie making process.

Movie analysis
Four Daughters skillfully weaves a narrative beyond political boundaries, navigating the complexities of extremism through a mother's anguish. The movie’s exploration of radicalization and family dynamics is poignant and thought-provoking, offering a human perspective on a challenging subject.

Ben Hania, known for movies like "Beauty and the Dogs" and "The Man Who Sold His Skin," consistently incorporates themes of injustice and women's issues. Four Daughters addresses the emotional struggles of a mother dealing with radicalization, offering a nuanced perspective on the impact of extremism on women and families.

In Four Daughters, she incorporates elements of fiction into the true story of Olfa Hamrouni, a woman coping with the disappearance of her daughters. The film has garnered attention for its unusual blend of documentary, memory, meta-fictional re-enactment, and therapy.

The unique blend of documentary and narrative elements in Four Daughters is a distinctive feature of the movie. Ben Hania shares insights into the challenges faced in seamlessly integrating these two storytelling techniques.

Ben Hania's documentary employs reenactments as a key storytelling tool. She elaborates on how these reenactments enhance the viewer's understanding of the narrative and contribute to the emotional depth of the movie.

Balancing the factual aspects of a documentary with emotional storytelling is a delicate task. Ben Hania explains how she navigated this balance in Four Daughters to ensure a comprehensive exploration of the presented themes.

Ben Hania's avant-garde lens captures not only the events but also the underlying emotions, offering a cinematic experience that transcends the boundaries of conventional storytelling. Four Daughters stands as a testament to the filmmaker's dedication to authentic storytelling, navigating the complexities of family dynamics and the far-reaching consequences of extremism.

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