Drawn in the curves of childhood, the face that we see occupying the entire image and which will be in almost every shot delivers a gentleness full of determination. This is undoubtedly due to the direct and frank gaze which illuminates it. Donya (Anaita Wali Zada), a 21-year-old Afghan refugee, former translator for the US army and expatriate when the Taliban returned to power, now lives in Fremont, a city on the San Francisco Bay Area, in California. There she found a new job in a small family fortune cookie factory run by a Chinese immigrant couple. In the evening, she dines alone in a small neighborhood restaurant, always the same, before returning to her studio, where she struggles to fall asleep.
This is how the portrait is sketched to which the filmmaker Babak Jalali devotes his fourth feature film, Fremont , a little marvel in black and white, stripped of superfluity and effects, in favor of a slightly melancholic grace and ‘a rare beauty. Let us mention, in this regard, the work of cinematographer Laura Valladao, who magnifies each place, each gesture and each character, as a tribute to their simplicity and dignity. This is also what the 4/3 format in which the film was shot is used for, which has the virtue of tightening the frame and isolating the subject from its environment.
This is Fremont’s point, which speaks to us of exile (geographical, social, mental), of these lives on the margins and the solitude that results from it. A subject that Babak Jalali – born in Iran, living in London – has been exploring since his beginnings, from Frontier Blues (2009) to Radio Dreams (2016), and from Land (2018) to this latest feature film, which is released today today, after receiving the Jury Prize at the Deauville American Film Festival in September.
To this exile, the source of much suffering, the filmmaker nevertheless adds a power which he makes a duty to do. That of granting strength and will to the characters of his films, as opposed to the victimhood character with which we most often attribute the uprooted. Donya carries this torch, which, despite her modesty, refuses to let go and knows what she wants. The film acts in the same way: diffuse sadness constantly thwarted by absurd situations, a deadpan humor that is irresistible to say the least. Although routine, Donya’s life intersects with a gallery of more or less zany characters, prone to neuroses, a vague soul about whom it is better to laugh than to cry. The politeness of Babak Jalali.
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