Film review: You Resemble Me

Dina Amer’s directorial debut is drawn from true events surrounding the 2015 Paris attacks

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Based on real events, You Resemble Me (from 3 Feb, Home, Manchester and other cinemas) takes a look at the life of Hasna Ait Boulahcen, mistakenly labelled as Europe’s first female suicide bomber when she was killed in a blast at a flat in the Parisian suburbs following the 2015 terrorist attacks in the city.

Hasna and her younger sister Mariam are inseparable as children. In the tender, funny, opening scene we watch as Hasna celebrates her sister’s birthday by presenting Mariam with a dress that matches her own. It even has a hole in the same place as hers, where Hasna has cut off the security tags from the garments, clearly having shoplifted them from somewhere.

It soon becomes clear that the two girls’ lives are already full of trauma at the hands of their sometimes violent and mentally ill mother. When they are picked up by the authorities while begging and stealing on the streets of Paris, they are separated and placed with different foster care families and it is from this point on that Hasna starts to really struggle.

The film then takes the viewer on a journey through Hasna’s turbulent life, including incidents of sexual violence, discrimination, poverty and drug use as it charts the route that led to her entanglement with Islamic radicals.

Former Vice journalist Dina Amer makes her astounding directorial debut here with a script co-written with Omar Mullick, based on over 300 hours of interviews with Hasna’s real family and inner circle.

In many ways, it’s an attempt to correct the narrative around Hasna herself. The story takes time to explore and reveal Hasna’s desperation and unravelling sense of self and self-worth. In presenting her as a complex person with many different sides to her personality, three different actresses play her, including Amer herself. This also reflects the fact that in the aftermath of her death media outlets used photos of three different women when talking about her.

By no means a comfortable watch, this is a moving and vital movie that while never trying to excuse the shocking events of 2015, does peel back the layers that can contribute to radicalisation, when the promise of paradise can seem so alluring to someone whose life on earth is at times made so unbearable.

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