'Fatima' is well-observed but too bland

'Fatima' stars Soria Zeroual as the title character, an Algerian cleaning lady in contemporary France who is also a single mother attempting to raise her two daughters. Kenza Noah Aïche and Zita Hanrot co-star.

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    'Fatima' stars Soria Zeroual (l.) and Zita Hanrot (r.)
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Philippe Faucon’s “Fatima” centers on its eponymous title character, played by Soria Zeroual, an Algerian cleaning lady in contemporary France who is also a single mother attempting to raise her two daughters, the rebellious 15-year-old Souad (Kenza Noah Aïche) and the studious medical student Nesrine (Zita Hanrot). 

Fatima, who speaks very little French, works 'round the clock in well-appointed homes in Lyon and in a factory. When she is injured in a fall at work, she files for disability insurance, meeting with stiff resistance. Her life is not an easy one. Souad ridicules her for not learning French; her ex-husband contributes virtually nothing to his family. Her only emotional outlet is the diary into which she scribbles her hopes and fears. (The entries are heard as voiceovers.)

Well-observed and unassuming as this film is, it glides along rather too blandly. Part of the problem is that Zeroual, a non-professional who was a cleaning lady when she was cast, is inexpressive. No doubt Faucon was going for what Vittorio De Sica famously achieved when he cast non-actors in such neo-realist classics as “Bicycyle Thieves” and “Umberto D.”  – the authenticity of the actual. But what mostly comes through instead is just a blahness that pervades the entire movie. Grade: B- (Unrated.)

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