'Fatima' is well-observed but too bland

( Unrated ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'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.

Kino Lorber
'Fatima' stars Soria Zeroual (l.) and Zita Hanrot (r.)

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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