An utterly devastating look at how trauma in young people can lead the disenchanted down a path they can never return from. Dina Amer’s You Resemble Me challenges its audience not to take everything at face value. A gut-punch of a film.
Cultural and intergenerational trauma erupt in this story about two sisters on the outskirts of Paris. After the siblings Hasna and Mariam leave home again after another battle with their mentally ill mother, they find themselves forced apart. Years later, the eldest Hasna is still struggling to find her identity in a world that she is continually losing trust in.
Co-writer and director Dina Amer swerves her audience with her gripping and heart-wrenching story. At first, we believe that this will be a tale about sisters torn apart into different foster homes who will one day try and find a way to reconnect. But then she switches us much further down the line with an adult Hasna, who has never recovered from that early trauma—having us follow Hasna’s story of trying not only to find her sister but find herself in a world that has in her mind thrown her to the side. It cannot be understated how difficult You Resemble Me is.
A film that wants to challenge its audience’s level of empathy while managing to showcase how children and young people can get lost in the system. It also puts a spotlight on us as an audience, maybe it leaves you uncomfortable, and that, in truth, is okay. But the main thing is that this film has you thinking, you will not be able to forget this character and what happens to her, and that is the main thing as You Resemble Me is a film you won’t forget.
Omar Mullick does some very strong work here as cinematographer, whether it be with the adult Hasna as she wanders around Paris trying to find herself or in those early moments when the two sisters were together. A simple handheld camera work style akin to the wonderful Playground has the camera continually at the eye level of the sisters. For those moments, we are them as they at times dangerously explore the city. We rarely, if at all, see the faces of adults due to the low level, giving us a new look at a city we have seen so much on camera.
This intelligent filmmaking doesn’t end there with Mullick’s camera never fully settling. It is constantly on the move as if we are seeing a documentary. However, we venture more into adult Hasna’s world. This handheld style only ensures that we are unsettled at every point; much like Hasna herself, we feel off as if something ominous is coming. Like a dark cloud enveloping Hasna, and there seems to be nothing that can be done about it, which is as terrifying an image as it is crushing.
In You Resemble Me, Amer is able to show us a young girl who has lost everything, her family, trust in others and finds herself almost fully isolated. You can see all she desires is for someone to love and care for her, to find that connection with anyone who would deem her important. We get this several times in the film, when she thinks she has found someone who understands her. Who lets her talk about her problems and breathe, they ultimately disappoint her in one way or another. Forcing her to build that wall up and limit her ways of getting over it.
With her family ignoring her and people in the country she wants to love hating or judging her because of her ethnicity, her hopes of finding that happy ending appear dim. That is until a chance encounter turns her world upside down, and in that yearning for that dream, something else emerges.
However, due to her past trauma, she also becomes a victim of her own internal rage and self-abuse, as we see in an interview she has for the army. The interviewer makes a comment about why they should recruit her due to a paper-thin application, and she immediately blows up in his face. Thinking he is getting ready to throw her out because of her ethnicity, she goes on the defensive as she has continually had to do all her young life. But, in reality, it was a miscommunication, and as he tries to get her to come back after doing some preparation, it is clear it is already too late. She has lost her temper and is too far gone, perhaps losing that last chance of normalcy.
The way Amer presents her story, at times, emotionally breaks you. She makes sure to wear us down as Hasna is worn down by each situation she stumbles into. So, when we are presented with that final reveal of who Hasna is, you are completely devastated. She also adds in moments where it is not just Hasna we see but a number of women, indicating how easy and familiar these scenarios are. Amer excellently shows us that not all situations are as black and white as they sometimes seem; that horrible shade of grey exists. As such, You Resemble Me becomes an essential viewing experience, and also, a film, especially those last few minutes, serves as a sombre education tool for those in similar situations.
You Resemble Me will be playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is available to stream across the UK and Ireland between 17-25 March via https://ff.hrw.org/london
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