I spent most of Young Ahmed wanting to throttle young Ahmed, which is either entirely the point or not even close to the point at all. Honestly? I can’t tell. Knowing Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two brotherly filmmakers who prioritize empathy over everything except realism, I’m probably missing the point. They probably want their audience to see Ahmed seduced by the temptations of tainted religious doctrine (as interpreted by evil men) and feel more pity for him than not; he’s an attempted murderer, sure, and that scene is in fact one of the film’s most effective, but he’s also just a damn kid and he doesn’t have a person in his life capable of steering him away from violence.
At the same time, he has tons of people in his life who try, and he’s so stubbornly self-assured of his own rectitude that he ignores all of them. This is annoying enough behavior from kids who don’t believe in jihadist bullshit, and ten times as much from kids who do (and who are also anti-Semites, but whatever).
This is all to say that Young Ahmed rolled around in my head a good while after I finished watching it, but it’s also too damn short to really be as effective as the Dardenes hope it is, and I really can’t believe I’m this ambivalent over one of their movies. Weird.
You can read my full review over at Paste Magazine.