She’s a divorced Moroccan immigrant barely making ends meet to support her two daughters in a country who’s language she can hardly speak. Her two daughters seem to harbor a resentment towards their own heritage for different reasons that stem to the fact that they’re in a white-intensive country, with white values, and would like to have what’s called a “normal family.” Such a rift, visible to her Moroccan neighbors, causes a sense of anger: how dare these two young women reject their own?
To that, Fatima (Soria Zeroual) offers no clear answers because there are none. All she can do is toil ahead in menial jobs to pay for her daughters Nesrine’s and Souad’s college and high school, respectively (although she does get some help from her former husband). Most of the conflict lies in the language barrier between Fatima and her own daughters, her employers, and the unspoken racism that permeates the story with every encounter. One early example is when Fatima mentions to the woman who’s house she cleans that Nesrine is studying to be a doctor. The woman, a stately, patrician redhead, has just had an argument with her son who’s throwing his future away. Upon Fatima’s revelation, again, spoken in terrible French, there’s a clear stiffening in the woman’s pose. It’s almost as if this challenged her own sense of privilege, her own status: her cleaning lady also having a daughter who will one day become a doctor.
Another example is when Nesrine goes looking for an apartment to move into: there is a tension between the very white blond landlady and these three dark-skinned women that ends on a negative note. If you’ve read how minorities are treated here in the US when seeking apartments in nicer areas, Fatima lays it out pretty plainly. Later on in the movie Fatima reveals in conversation with Nesrine that her employer has been leaving money out carelessly in places where she will clean. It’s almost as if her employer would want her to steal it to self-fulfill her own prejudice that all foreigners not of Anglo origin are thieves.
To top this off, Fatima has begun to have increasing problems with Souad, her youngest daughter. While Nesrine’s conflicts arise from her own need to succeed and pass her exams (and that she doesn’t feel the need to wear a scarf around her head which angers her neighbors), Souad’s problems are much deeper.There is a sense of something missing from her life. Her grades are dropping, her relation with both her parents is deteriorating, and she seems to be hanging with “the wrong crowd,” she mocks Fatima’s French (which Fatima countermocks Souad’s own poor Arabic). It’s a situation that brings argument after argument with Fatima and one wonders whether there can be a middle ground between the two.
The only action sequence is a tumble down the stairs that renders Fatima with severe shoulder pain and in need of therapy. It’s a shocking development that comes out of nowhere but as a hidden blessings it allows Fatima to writer her innermost thoughts which she shares with her therapist and (offscreen) learn French to communicate better, on her own terms
Fatima is a brief, yet wonderfully warm slice of life that manages to draw a complete portrait of an otherwise invisible woman that a privileged section of society would rather tend to forget due to her African origins. I loved how lived in, how real the entire story felt and how this could appropriate itself to many foreigners who now live in a country that, while giving them limited resources, often tries to stamp out their identity by turning the other cheek. That this unassuming woman slowly comes to her own after a time spent in the shadows makes it a must-see.
As of yet there is no US release date for Fatima although Kino-Lorber has acquired it for distribution.