Oscars 2024: Best Documentary-nominated Four Daughters offers a moving portrait of a Tunisian family torn apart by Islamic fundamentalism

A scene from the documentary Four Daughters showing sisters Eya Chikhaoui and Tayssir Chikhaoui with actors  Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui
Four Daughters Eya Chikhaoui, left, Ichraq Matar, centre, Nour Karoui, top, and Tayssir Chikhaoui, right, in a scene from Four Daughters. Picture by Kino Lorber
Four Daughters (unrated, 110mins), documentary/drama. Starring: Olfa Hamrouni, Eya Chikhaoui, Tayssir Chikhaoui, Ichraq Matar, Nour Karoui, Hend Sabri, Majd Mastoura
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

THIS engrossing, Oscar-nominated work from filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania, focuses on a Tunisian family torn apart when its two eldest daughters joined ISIS in 2015, having been radicalised by an eruption of Islamic fanaticism in the wake of 2011′s Arab Spring.

Is Four Daughters a documentary?

To tell their often harrowing story in this ambitious work of nonfiction - which was awarded the prestigious l’Oeil d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival - Ben Hania employs a mix of candid interviews/discussions with Olfa Hamourni and her two younger daughters, Eya and Tayssir Chikhaoui, along with a number of dramatic re-enactments utilising actors Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui to portray their “missing” sisters, Ghofrane and Rahma - whose exact, headline-grabbing fate is not revealed until later in the film.

Occasionally, Olfa herself is substituted for a performer when a scene involves a particularly traumatic memory. Actor Hendi Sabri steps in for these moments - such as the night Olfa’s husband attempted to rape her (he would later attempt to molest their children too) - though Olfa is usually still present in the background of these scenes, offering direction to the actors for the sake of accuracy.

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What happens in Four Daughters?

The film touches upon Olfa’s troubled upbringing in a poisonously patriarchal culture, and how this influenced the often brutally strict way in which she raised her own girls, before, and especially after, her divorce.

A new partner allowed Olfa to finally experience romance and sexual awakening, but he quickly proved to be a malignant presence who also abused her daughters.

A scene from Four Daughters showing actors Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui with Olfa, Tayssir and Eya
Four Daughters Actors Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui (first and second left) with Olfa, Tayssir and Eya

What is the story of Four Daughters?

We also learn that the turbulent culture of their times was also a massive factor in what happened to Ghofrane and Rahma. They initially grew up in Tunisia’s once strictly secular state, when any kind of religious act, such as wearing a hajib in public, became a fashionable mode of rebellion for young women.

Then, the spike of unchecked Islamic fundamentalism in the wake of the Arab Spring suddenly chimed with years of parental fearmongering about ‘sins of the flesh’, with street preachers only too happy to offer up the Islamic State as a safe haven for repentant men and women.

A still from the documentary Four Daughters showing sisters Tayssir and Eya
Four Daughters Tayssir and Eya

What is the movie Four Daughters about?

Four Daughters is a bold, stylish attempt to unpick one family’s trauma, which is sure to have multiple echoes in other households across their troubled home nation.

Sadly, we don’t get to hear Ghofrane and Rahma’s own version of events, but Olfa, Eya and Tayssir share their own interconnected stories with heartbreaking honesty, eloquence and tenderness towards one another.

A moving, memorable watch.

Rating: 3/5

Four Daughters is showing from today at QFT Belfast. See queensfilmtheatre.com for tickets and times

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