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.)