Dina Amer’s You Resemble Me is not an easy film to watch, but its central performance from Mouna Soualem grips us until the very end.
Dina Amer’s You Resemble Me is perhaps the most overlooked film of 2022. Released in a (very) limited sphere in the United States last November, and making its way to the United Kingdom on February 3rd (Canada will eventually get it, though details are forthcoming), the movie received incredible reviews and a strong word-of-mouth for those who have seen it. Having finally seen it, I can tell you that this is a movie you do not want to miss when it releases near you, especially in a theater.
But it’s not easy to watch. It chronicles the story of Hasna Aït Boulahcen (played by Lorenza Grimaudo, Mouna Soualem, Sabrina Ouazani and Amer), a woman who was killed in the 2015 Paris terror attacks and was falsely attributed as Europe’s first female suicide bomber in the aftermath of the attacks. As a young girl, Hasna has always defended her sister, Mariam (Ilonna Grimaudo), from the hands of her abusive mother and a foster system that separates them as children. As an adult, Hasna struggles between jobs and side gigs, consistently oppressed by a system that never helped her as a child and an adult.
One of the film’s most powerful scenes happens near the midpoint of the movie where Hasna is being interviewed on the prospect of joining the army. Here, Soualem showcases her impeccable dramatic skills and magnifies the screen in a gut-wrenching and harrowing monologue. It’s there that You Resemble Me will fully grip the audience in Hasna’s tragic descent into radicalization as she starts to message her cousin, Abdelhamid Abaaoud (Alexandre Gonin), after she sees him on television as a potential threat to Paris. Hasna will undergo multiple physical changes (Amer convincingly uses deepfake to pull the audience into her transformation by plastering another face on top of Soualem’s, sometimes for only a brief second) and eventually get close to Abdelhamid, where the tragedy will occur.
Making a film centering on a girl’s relationship with the mastermind behind the 2015 Paris Attacks that eventually led her to be falsely claimed as a suicide bomber is not an easy task to do, especially in making the audience feel somewhat sympathetic to Hasna, even though the series of bad decisions she makes. But Soualem is such a skillful actor that we begin to understand where she comes from, and why she believes she is making the right choice after being rejected by the French system that doesn’t seem to care about her and her sister, whom she doesn’t talk to anymore.
There has been recent talks about Oscar snubs, and many are justifiably pointing out how the Academy ignored Danielle Deadwyler and Viola Davis in favor of Ana de Armas and (shockingly) Andrea Riseborough. But I also believe that Mouna Soualem should’ve been in the conversation. You cannot take your eyes off her as soon as the movie cuts from her childhood to her life as an adult, even as her face changes from time to time. I will openly say it: I’m not a fan of deepfake. No serious filmmaker should ever use it, in any given circumstance, especially when it comes to de-aging a character and modulating their voice to make them appear younger. That’s partially why I wasn’t big on The Irishman’s opening minutes, especially when an old Joe Pesci (who appears young) says to a young (but old) Robert De Niro, “What’s the problem, kid?” The suspension of disbelief isn’t there.
But Amer’s use of deepfake may be You Resemble Me ’s most incredible achievement. She doesn’t use it as a tool to make a character appear younger, but as an emotional device to make the audience understand how Hasna is transforming herself, physically and psychologically. The aforementioned monologue uses deepfake in one precise moment where her life will take a dark turn. It never feels odd, but instead pulls us further into Hasna’s descent, and gives the character a different and multi-layered perspective at why she did what she did. Omar Mullick’s handheld cinematography is also particularly effective and dizzying, further plunging us into its visual storytelling alongside its technological innovation.
But the emotional catharsis doesn’t reach its apex until Amer shifts the proceedings from a fictionalized representation of Hasna’s life to a documentary, in which multiple clips from interviews she conducted with Hasna’s mother, sister, and brother are shown, after a series of news clips falsely attribute Hasna as a suicide bomber. It’s only when we get those documentary testimonials that we understand Hasna’s bigger story, with the film ending in a more tragic light than if it had stayed in biopic mode from beginning to end.
As I said, You Resemble Me is not an easy film to watch, and it will not be for everyone. But the movie’s audacious visual style and star-making performance from Mouna Soualem makes it an immediate must-see. It’s not a movie that I will ever watch again, but one I’m glad I did, and hope many others will do the same.
You Resemble Me is now available to watch on digital and on demand. Read all our reviews!