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‘Four Daughters’ a tale of sisterhood, rebellion, loss

James Verniere – Boston Herald (TNS)

From Tunisia, the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Four Daughters” is a house of mirrors, telling the story of how a Tunisian house cleaner and single mother lost two of her daughters, the two eldest of four. Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania of the Oscar-nominated 2020 documentary “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” “Four Daughters” begins somewhat benignly with our introduction to the actor Hend Sabri, who will play the mother Olfa Hamrouni in the film. When the action is not too emotional, Olfa will also play herself in some scenes. Her two delightful youngest daughters Eya Chikhaoui and Tayssir Chikhaoui play themselves. Their older sisters Ghofrane Chikhaoui and Rahma Chikhaoui are played by the actors Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui, respectively. In a twist similar to Alex Garland’s 2022 fictional effort “Men,” all the men in the film are played by a single actor, in this case Majd Mastoura. The men of “Four Daughters” include the girls’ sexually abusive father, their sexually abusive stepfather, who is an ex-convict (who also left them), and an angry police officer.

Sometimes, the real sisters and the faux sisters share the screen with both their real mother and the actor playing her. The real and the fictional and the documentary and the feature film overlap in “Four Daughters” to say the least. We hear about how Rahma went through a Goth phase before donning the hijab and niqab. When all four young women in the film wear this black clothing, they appear to disappear from the screen. Olfa talks about a time before her older daughters were “devoured by the wolf,” a reference to ISIS, the terrorist organization that they became affiliated with after, according to their mother, being kidnapped. There is some ambiguity to how the girls changed, and Olfa is not always credible. The screen’s “reunited-by-the-film” sisters sit and talk and sing songs together.

Although the film can be claustrophobic and monotonous due to a lack of exterior shots or action and an excess of dialogue, “Four Daughters” is intriguing. We see a brutal reenactment of Olfa’s wedding night. The actors playing the older sisters vocalize together. All the girls talk about swearing and having to “hide our bodies.” Rahma and Ghofrane were cheerleaders as teenagers and went through rebellious phases. Olfa had a real-life female exorcist take a go at a possibly possessed Ghofrane.

Using recent archival footage, Ben Hania reveals to us the fate and location of Rahma and Ghofrane. Olfa ominously refers to the lives of herself and her children as “a curse.” “Four Daughters” may be more admirable than enjoyable. But Ben Hania weaves some love and happiness, and a daunting game of musical chairs, into its cycle of abuse.

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‘FOUR DAUGHTERS’

(In Arabic, French and English with English subtitles)

Grade: B+

No MPA rating (contains strong, sexually suggestive material and profanity)

Running time: 1:47

How to watch: Now in theaters

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