“Fatima” begins slowly and deliberately, and proceeds that way for its entire seventy-eight minutes, like a mother straightening her child’s room. This is appropriate, for it is about an Algerian cleaning woman struggling to raise her two teenage daughters in Lyon, France. The film is a loose adaptation of Priere a la lune (Prayer to the Moon), a short collection of poems and other writings by Fatima Elayoubi, a North African woman who emigrated to France and taught herself the language. Fatima’s onscreen stand-in is played by the nonprofessional actor Soria Zeroual, who really worked as a cleaning woman until being cast in this film.
At times, Zeroual’s lack of acting experience is all too evident – her high, trailing voice can grate; her motions and features can seem frozen – but soon enough you see what director Philippe Faucon saw in her: an unadulterated steadiness that shores her children – and this film – in the face of all adversity. With her veiled head, stricken expression, and broken French, Fatima encounters micro – and macro – aggression daily, yet remains undeterred as she spends long hours cleaning a local factory and the houses of unhappy, wealthy women. Nothing can sway her from the goal of supporting Nesrine (Zita Hanrot), her eighteen-year-old daughter in medical school, and Souad (Kenza Noah Aiche), her fifteen-year-old daughter who is as surly with her mother as she is with her schoolmates and teachers. Continue Reading →