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Titans of the Belgian film scene since the 1970s, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are back at this year’s Cannes with somber coming-of-age tale Le Jeune Ahmed (Young Ahmed). Ahmed, a 13-year-old Belgian Muslim, is radicalized by an extremist interpretation of the Quran and devises a plan to kill his teacher. The film has already drawn criticism for its subject matter, notably from French and Belgian Muslims who feel the film may rely on an overly simplistic representation of Islamic beliefs. YouTube comments on the official trailer call the film “propaganda” and express concern for its regressive nature, especially in a time where anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe is particularly high.

Le Jeune Ahmed

In a recent interview with Marianne, the brothers explained why they chose such a young protagonist: “it seemed improbable to us that someone radicalized at 18 or 20 years old could get out of fanaticism. Focusing on the hesitations of an older combattant would have revealed an obscene otherworldliness.” Centering on a child on the brink of adolescence would allow them to explore a world where “fanaticism could still shiver.”

The Dardenne brothers are most well-known for intimate dramas that focus on the daily lives of working-class people. Thematically, their stories typically point to difficult questions of morality among ordinary society - elements of betrayal, abuse, hardship, and class tension all feature in several of their works. Their career began in documentary filmmaking, so stylistically they tend to favor hand-held cameras and natural lighting in their fiction work. They’ve had enormous success at Cannes in the past, earning prizes for Best Screenplay, the Grand Prix, and two Palme D’Or awards for their seven films in competition. Le Jeune Ahmed promises to be another Dardenne heavy-hitter, but whether its controversial story affects its performance has yet to be seen.