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Review | Award-winning documentary 'Four Daughters' a must-see

Four Daughters | Dir: Kaouther Ben Hania | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The film opens with Olfa, a Tunisian woman who is the mother of four daughters, addressing the camera. Olfa is with her two youngest daughters Eya and Tayssir while she recalls for the camera that the two eldest daughters “were devoured by a wolf”.

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In place of the two absent eldest daughters, director Kaouther Ben Hania uses two professional actors who look like them. While the two youngest daughters appear as themselves, the director also has a double for their mother for the times when relating the story becomes too upsetting.

The incredible tale is something that actually happened to this fatherless family, but there is a delicate line between what happened and memories of the events. The director’s aim was to recapture what took place years earlier without it becoming tainted with sensationalism, particularly by the grieving Olfa.

As the frustratingly tragic story unfolds, from the mother’s upbringing to the most recent fate of her eldest daughters, it becomes obvious that the ‘wolves’ are apt metaphors rather than being actual animals. It is a cautionary tale of the power of ideology and its changing allegiances; of rebellion and of sisterhood.

Many documentaries use re-enactments to bring past events to life, but what is interesting for the audience is that the spell is continually broken and the audience is made aware that there are actors interpreting what happened. On one occasion, the person acting as the mother is recreating a scene and the camera draws back to see Olfa crying as she witnesses her past.

Tunisian writer and director Kaouther Ben Hania sees her film as a therapeutic laboratory in which memories would be recaptured. “It wasn’t the reconstitution of the memories themselves that interested me but the exchanges between Olfa and her daughters to achieve this.”

This fascinating film, which has just won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature, is a must-see.

Lezly Herbert


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