You Resemble Me: Review. By Samhith Ankam.
“You Resemble Me,” in its original language, French, titled “Tu Me Ressembles,” may be labeled as a documentary, but it takes a while to reveal itself as such in terms of form. In fact, it may be as well be like BlacKKKlansman (2018) ending with a montage of the “Unite the Rally” march where a peaceful protestor gets murdered, except here it’s not fantasy opening eyes to reality but giving reality to fantasy constructed by a news cycle. The director, Dina Amer, aims to follow Hasna Ait Boulachen’s story starting from birth, not working back from death – a way for her to clear her conscience after falsely reporting Hasna as Europe’s First Female Suicide Bomber.
What happened since those words were published would dictate the creation of this documentary. Nothing is simple and shouldn’t be simple because that’s where the news of Hasna’s involvement was manipulated through misogynistic lenses. Nothing is obvious; the clear-cut nature of the headline obfuscated the fact that there’s a person underneath all that talk whose life ended in fear, not glory. We give into the facts, but maybe the real story is about subjectivity, how people sometimes are forced to choose from limited options.
What results is more of a docu-drama, moments recreated after 360 hours of interviews with the family and community surrounding Hasna, strikingly brought to screen with actors who make a smile feel like nothing more than a temporary escape from purgatory. As fragmented as it is, there’s a throughline of grappling with religion from front to back. From Hasna witnessing a street fight commenced by a white Parisian who called a boy a “dirty Arab,” to her foster-family force feeding her Pork at a Christmas Dinner when it’s not Halal, to getting ticketed by a police officer for wearing a Burka in public, there’s an unacceptance of Islam in France that further questions her identity, the one thing she’s trying to stabilize.
What does she give herself to, the systems of European civilization or being a Muslim? What can allow her to move on from abusive parents, a lack of schooling, a life sustained through prostitution, and a service job still insufficient to cover housing? But, her choice is a facade; this documentary depicts how religion and its promises to forgive and hope for a better life can be twisted into fitting someone else’s goal – A terrorist’s one. That sense of hope upon chatting with her cousin, who’s orchestrating attacks in Paris, isn’t forgotten until it has to be, but in those moments of wearing the Burka, she finally feels like she’s marching to the beat of her own drum.
Tragically, her sworn responsibility to save others, we see it with her bond with her sister and her attempt to enlist in the French military, only ends in harm (in extension, her self-demise). The violence isn’t incessant here, it plants the seeds as an outlet in the opening minutes, but this doesn’t follow Hasna giving into it, even at the eleventh hour. But, at that point, it’s too late – the title “You Resemble Me” is put out of desperation, hoping that someone will see themselves here and not fall into the trap. Dina Amer goes a step further than mere words, having three actors play the adult version of Hasna, even herself, at no rhyme or reason other than create a blur of a face to project yourself onto.
“You Resemble Me” follows every failure of support in Hasna’s life and when different forms of support are battling each other. There’s nuance to the story – never taking away her blame but also finding fault in society at large – The cut into the documented footage at the end shows that there is definitely reason to. The understanding of “why” and “how” through vignettes pieced together creates a sense of unbelonging and degradation that shatters Dina Amer’s original headline on the subject. This is storytelling, raw and a little messy, but necessarily so to feel real. Every person is a product of everything around them, so following character impulses based on that instead of narrative logic is the only way to be honest.
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