Kaouther Ben Hania’s films have an intriguing quality due in large part to the unconventional storytelling methods he employs and the weighty subject matters he explores. Audience members at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival all reacted the same way when they caught a glimpse of Four Daughters (Les Filles d’Olfa), the entry for Tunisia in the festival’s main competition. The film Four Daughters uses the meta-film trope to introduce the idea of a film within a film. This “film within a film” is a faux documentary inspired by real-life events and starring the real-life participants. In this context, “film within a film” means a film within another film. Ben Hania comes up with the idea to make a movie about Olfa and her four daughters, of whom two were said to have been eaten by “wolves” because of the community’s persecution of women who did not wear hijabs. Ben Hania plans to create a film centered on Olfa and her loved ones. Olfa and her family’s story would serve as the focal point of Ben Hania’s film. While Olfa and her younger daughters play themselves, Ben Hania cast an actress to play Olfa in the film’s more emotionally taxing scenes. In addition, two young actresses, Ghofrane and Rahma, have been cast as the eldest of the two missing daughters. Check out Slingo.com for a list of the highest paid actors if you’re interested in learning more about the entertainment industry.
Despite the gloomy setup, Olfa tells her daughters the story of the Titanic as if she were Rose, while their “fake sisters” eagerly await their arrival. The women use humor, playful bonding, and sarcasm to hide the pain they have endured. Four Daughters provides an entertaining and approachable aspect of the story by piecing together various aspects of the fake movie, such as its outtakes, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage, to tell a logical story about what actually occurred to Olfa and her daughters.
The audience is able to follow the story of the women without ever seeing the finished product of the hoax movie, showcasing the flexibility of storytelling. Ben Hania uses humor to make the harsh realities of life more palatable in this novel format. The audience will be unable to avoid learning about the oppression of women in Tunisia in this way.
Another side of the same story emerges when we think about how ridiculous the staged scenes are and how the women’s traumatic experiences are explained away so casually in relation to the production. A woman who was rejected by her husband, left to raise her daughters alone, and saw two of them go missing is given a tragic background through the use of humorous anecdotes in the telling of her story.
There is a touch of comedy because the real daughters are arguing about whether or not to swear in front of the male actor they are instructing on how to play their horrible father. Even though time has passed and the family members can look back on the tragedy with more objectivity, the interviews show just how deeply it affected them. Even more so when Olfa and her two daughters develop feelings for the actors playing them and their shared quest to understand the motivations behind their characters’ actions. Because of this, the film Four Daughters can serve as a primer for aspiring filmmakers interested in learning about casting, the process of filmmaking, the sacrifices made by actors in order to fully embody their roles, and the challenges inherent in bringing a story to the screen.
Even more repressive beliefs are being called into question, such as why a woman’s body should be the property of her husband and society rather than herself, and why some mothers resort to harsh forms of discipline in an effort to protect their daughters from the dangers of the outside world. In spite of the audience’s hilarity at the expense of the actors, the film succeeds in calling into question the fundamental concept of what kinds of behaviors are acceptable for women and which are not acceptable for women. When the actors are put in the position of portraying family arguments, the members of the audience find it extremely comical. They make a passing acknowledgment of it, and the third daughter begins to speak out in a humorous manner about the many ways in which her mother has wronged her. This brings up feelings that have been repressed. As a direct consequence of this, feelings that have been repressed become easier to access. The film will serve as a tool for the daughters to use in explaining what occurred to their mother and, ultimately, in persuading their mother to accept the explanation where she had not done so previously. When we first met, she didn’t believe what we were saying, but after getting to know us, she does. Even though we are left wondering whether these moments are scripted, improvised during rehearsal, or decisions made on the spot, it is bittersweet to learn that it took them so long to be honest with each other. We can’t help but wonder whether the events that have occurred are improvised during the rehearsal process, happen spontaneously, or are part of a larger plan. Nevertheless, this serves as an illustration of how sometimes parents are unaware that they are hurting their children, leaving them with emotional scars in spite of the fact that the discipline was carried out with good intentions. As a consequence of this, it might be more difficult for the children to recover from the unfavorable effects that the discipline had on them. It’s possible that it could have extremely negative repercussions, just like what happened with Rahma and Ghofrane. However, it is not completely out of the question.
Because the arguments seem to be taking place in real life, it is difficult to determine whether the people involved are merely acting or whether Olfa and the actors are having a fight behind the scenes. Ben Hania continues to test the limits of what’s possible, and the results have been satisfying so far. When she reveals the shocking information, the director of the documentary makes the point of the film crystal clear, even for viewers who aren’t familiar with the subject and haven’t read the synopsis (no pun intended). She does a fantastic job of covering all the bases, but all that does is make us crave more information. We are interested in learning what happened to the real Rahma and Ghofrane, and we can’t wait to see what kind of shocking information we can find out by doing a quick search on Google. It’s possible that after watching the documentary Four Daughters, viewers will find themselves wishing for a less serious portrayal of the women’s experience of bonding while they worked together on the film. In spite of this, we will never forget the two daughters who mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Characters are presented to us who are all flawed yet loveable, who have memories that are both happy and sad, and who make us wonder how the same decisions can take different people in completely different directions; both of these things remain in the periphery of our minds after we’ve finished the story. Despite the fact that she directed a documentary about real-life events, Kaouther Ben Hania proves to be a formidable adversary to her contemporaries in the main section of the Cannes 2023 competition.