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Fatima lives alone with her two daughters : Souad, 15, a rebellious teenager, and Nesrine, 18, who is starting medical school. Fatima doesn’t speak French well, a great frustration to her in her daily relations with her daughters. At the same time, her girls are her motivation and her pride as well as a source of worry to her. In order to give them the best possible future, Fatima works irregular hours as a house cleaner. One day, she falls down a flight of stairs. While she is off work, Fatima starts writing to her daughters in Arabic, telling them everything she hasn’t been able to express in French. [Synopsis courtesy of Directors’ Fortnight]

Dans la vie (Two Ladies)

Kosher-cooking Muslims and Koran-reading Jews typify the surprising culture clashes that complicate and enliven the contemporary France of Philippe Faucon’s exquisitely observed drama. Fiercely independent Sélima, a dedicated Arab nurse, takes a job caring for sharp-tongued, wheelchair-bound widow Esther, whose Jewish upbringing in Algeria and adulthood in multicultural France have hardened her suspicions of those outside the tribe. Sizing up Esther as a tough cookie requiring more attention than she herself can offer, Sélima appeals to her unusually open-minded mother, Halima, to assist with daycare. Thrown together out of mutual need—Esther craves home-cooked meals and a peer to put up with her complaints, while Halima can use the extra cash to fund her long-planned pilgrimage to Mecca—the pair overcomes personal and political differences to form an unlikely bond. Faucon traces their complex relationship with a light directorial touch, deftly avoiding what might otherwise have been a pedantic polemic pitting religious fundamentalism against secular freedom. His approach, like that of his leading ladies, is thoughtful and even-handed, as in a memorable scene in which a group of veiled women gaze with a mixture of disapproval and envy at topless sunbathers. Esther and Halima ultimately bring out the best in one another; their mutual admiration, like Faucon’s film, puts a fresh spin on that confounding law of physics and friendships: opposites attract.