In 2015, director Dina Amer (who was then the reporting journalist) was one of the first people to make the world aware of ‘Euproe’s First Female Bomber,’ Hasna Aït Boulahcen. The Paris attacks back then really shook the nation. But, this last one, which was miscredited to Hasna, turned into a media frenzy where the wrongful reporting led to a major deterioration of facts. However, as time passed and more truths were uncovered, it came to light that Hasna was a casualty of the blast and not the reason behind it. In her debut, ‘You Resemble Me,’ Dina Amer has tried to lead us to this point in Hasna’s life and how her ever-flickering identity crisis and a lack of belonging led her to take a radical stance.
This tale is effectively about the dehumanization of an individual right from the time they are born. To clarify her central figure’s ultimate stance in life, Amer returns to Hasna’s childhood. The first time we meet her, the little girl is contemplating suicide and how no one would care if she jumped off her balcony window. This is until she lays her eyes on her little sister Mariam. She sees a part of her in that small girl, and the love she feels for her is unconditional – something that grounds her in human feelings in spite of her mother’s neglect. The French-Moroccan girl, however, is abused by her mother, who has problems of her own, but instead of not imposing them on her children, she takes it upon them.
So, in spite of fleeing and having to spend their time on the streets of Paris, Hasna and her little sister feel more loved by each other than they do back home with their mother. However, their escapades are cut short when Child Protective Services splits the two up and sends them to different foster homes. A part of Hasna dies then and there, and she inhabits a personality of a cowboy in her head. Her hate for the indifference she feels for being an immigrant is thus manifested in her, and when we meet her all grown up (now played by Mouna Soualem), she is more distant and cruel.
Her innocence still lies with her, but she is now a drug addict and often turns to tricks to make a quick buck. She has lost touch with Miriam and crashes at her friend’s apartment, where she often babysits her friend’s children. She struggles to maintain her fast food work, and because of her reputation as a tough person, everyone wants to take advantage of her.
Casual sexism and racism have further escalated her sense of place, and she is quite clueless without any formal education. On one random day, she barges into the Army office and literally begs the one in charge to recruit her, claiming that protecting people is all she has ever known. Disappointed with the treatment she is met with everywhere, she finally finds some solace in her long-lost cousin Andlehamid (Alexandre Gonin) – a higher-up in ISIS who claims to understand her. Amer shows us Hasna’s fragility here as she is sucked into the world where she understands the feeling of the one’s tormented.
There are a few choices here that make You Resemble Me truly stand out—for instance, leading us into this tale through the carefree life of Hasna as a child makes us understand the root of her later radicalized existence. It grounds this film in a way that humanizes the subject. However, other very smart choices don’t pan out.
For instance, director Amer uses deep fake technology to juxtapose Hasna’s face with that of another actress Sabrina Ouazani and later herself. The choice initially allows us to really tally up with her ever-changing identity. Still, as the film moves out of her formative years and takes us to a more pertinent internal conflict, the film feels more and more patchy and distinct. Instead of leading us onto the complexity of what this person goes through, Amer makes a lateral shift in tone that hampers the proceedings.
You Resemble Me eventually becomes a sort of patchy exercise that remains effective due to Mouna Soualem’s exceptional performance and commitment to telling an honest story.