Original title:Fremont
Director:Babak Jalali
Running time:91 minutes
Release date:25 august 2023
Donya, a 20-year-old Afghan refugee, works in a makeshift cookie factory in San Francisco. A former translator for the US army in Afghanistan, she has trouble sleeping and feels lonely. Her routine is disrupted when her boss entrusts her with writing messages and predictions. Her desire awakens and she decides to send a special message in one of the cookies, letting fate take its course...

Mulder's Review

Babak Jalali's Fremont is a compelling exploration of the immigrant experience, personal identity and the relentless search to belong in a world shaped by cultural nuances and emotional complexities. Set against the backdrop of Fremont, California, renowned for its thriving Afghan population, the film invites audiences to embark on an emotional journey through the eyes of Donya (Anaita Wali Zada), a young Afghan immigrant whose past and present converge in a dance of nostalgia and introspection.

Fremont's heart beats to the rhythm of Donya's multifaceted existence. A former translator for the US army in Afghanistan, her past carries the weight of history as she navigates the uncharted waters of a new life in a foreign land. The film deftly navigates the subtleties of culture shock, illuminating the complex threads that bind Donya to her roots while weaving her into the fabric of her new community. Donya's relationships with her neighbors and colleagues resonate with unspoken tensions, echoing the universal struggle to bridge the gap between different worlds.

As Donya struggles with displacement and alienation, the film paints a nuanced portrait of the concept of otherness. The act of translation, once her profession, becomes a powerful symbol of her divided allegiances - a reflection of the internal struggles faced by many immigrants caught between the loyalty of their homeland and the lure of their adopted country.

Jalali's deliberate pacing reflects Donya's personal journey, unfolding as her emotions evolve. Scenes shift from the monotony of daily routine to moments of introspection and connection, reflecting her quest for clarity in the fog of her identity. The film's cinematography, wrapped in a hazy black-and-white aesthetic reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's signature style, becomes a visual metaphor for Donya's blurred sense of self. It's a visual reminder that the lines between past and present are rarely defined, and that one's identity is an ongoing voyage of discovery.

Anaita Wali Zada's interpretation of Donya is quite remarkable. A masterpiece of subtlety and depth, her performance encapsulates her character's silent longing, loneliness and emotional complexity. Zada's ability to convey deep emotions through a lingering glance or a fleeting smile reveals her exceptional talent as an actress.

The film's supporting cast further enriches the narrative tapestry. Donya's psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony, played by Gregg Turkington, serves as a catalyst for the young woman's introspection. Their sessions peel back the layers of Donya's psyche, revealing the traumas, guilt and conflicting emotions that haunt her. These interactions offer a poignant glimpse into Donya's inner world, capturing the universal struggle to confront the past and embark on the path to healing.

Joanna (Hilda Schmelling), Donya's colleague, embodies compassion and serves as a guide, encouraging Donya to reach out and love. Conversely, Daniel (Jeremy Allen White) enters the narrative in the final act, exuding an aura of muted loneliness that echoes the film's themes of isolation and longing for connection.

Fremont gracefully oscillates between melancholy and wry humor, transforming seemingly banal moments into pockets of emotional resonance. The delicate balance of tone adds authenticity to the depiction of life's moments, whether ordinary or transformative.

Beyond his intimate exploration of personal identity, Fremont delves into the metatextual through the symbolism of fortune cookies. Traditionally seen as tokens of light-hearted fun, the film transforms them into vehicles for introspection and exploration. This metamorphosis lends depth to the narrative, transforming what could have been a simple comic device into a profound exploration of human experience.

Jalali's direction, imbued with his trademark sensitivity, resonates in every frame of the film. The inclusion of non-professional actors, including Zada herself, a refugee with shared experiences, lends authenticity and lived perspective to the narrative. Donya's struggles with survivor's guilt and her quest to belong are given added weight by Zada's personal connection to the character's journey.

Fremont is more than just a love story; it's an odyssey of the soul. The film delves into the complex interplay of emotions faced by those who have left their homeland behind, serving as a mirror to the human experience of value, connection and the dance of life's fortunes. The captivating images, frenetic pace and heartfelt performances culminate in a powerful invitation for viewers to contemplate the intricate threads that bind us all in the tapestry of shared humanity.

Jalali's artistic prowess shines in his exploration of the individual within a larger political landscape. Fremont is a testament to his ability to craft a project that is both intimate and important, avoiding the pitfalls of complacency while delivering a deeply moving cinematic experience.

At its core, Fremont is a meditation - a celebration of the pursuit of happiness while being aware of the suffering endured by others. This theme resonates in the hearts of viewers long after the final scene has faded. With its hypnotic images, frenetic pace and performances that radiate authenticity, the film invites us to reflect on the complex threads that connect us on our common human journey.

Fremont is a masterpiece of storytelling, a complex tapestry woven with layers of emotion, experience and depth. It's a film that speaks to the human condition in its most vulnerable and resplendent moments, inviting us to explore the intersection of identity, connection and the never-ending quest to belong. With its mesmerizing images, poignant performances and thought-provoking themes, Fremont will lodge itself in the hearts of its viewers, leaving an indelible mark that will resonate for years to come.

Directed by Babak Jalali
Written by Carolina Cavalli, Babak Jalali
Produced by Marjaneh Moghimi, Sudnya Shroff, Rachael Fung, George Rush, Chris Martin, Laura Wagner
Starring Anaita Wali Zada, Gregg Turkington, Jeremy Allen White
Cinematography : Laura Valladao
Edited by Babak Jalali
Music by Mahmood Schricker
Production companies : A Butimar Productions, Extra A Productions, Blue Morning Pictures
Distributed by Music Box Films (USA) Modern Films (UK/Eire)
Release date : January 20, 2023 (Sundance)
Running time : 91 minutes

Seen on September 7 2023 at Deauville international center

Mulder's Mark: