EntertainmentUnraveling violence and radicalism: 'Four Daughters' explores the ordeal of a Muslim family

Unraveling violence and radicalism: 'Four Daughters' explores the ordeal of a Muslim family

"Four Daughters" is nominated for an Oscar in the best documentary category.
"Four Daughters" is nominated for an Oscar in the best documentary category.
Images source: © Press materials

12:19 PM EST, February 4, 2024, updated: 4:20 AM EST, March 7, 2024

In essence, "Four Daughters" is a film within a film. Director Kaouther Ben Hani first heard the story of Olfa Hamrouni and her two teenage daughters, Aya and Tayssir, in 2016. She endeavored to craft a fictional film that unveiled the stories of these girls who didn't speak for themselves. This is because the other daughters - Rahma and Ghofrane - had left their families to join ISIS. Their mother, however, remarks that "wolves devoured them".

The Tunisian-French-German production is partially a chronicle of the Arab revolution, demonstrating the influence of radicalism and family traumas inherited from generation to generation. Olfa - one of the daughters in a household led by women - became the family's protector. "I became a man to protect my mom," she confesses during the film. She cut her hair, took up weightlifting, and often fought with boys. She even fought her husband on their wedding night, the blood from his nose serving as false proof of her lost virginity.

Even though Olfa demonstrates immense strength, she is unable to safeguard her daughters not only from a patriarchal system but also from herself. She raised her daughters strictly, guarding their honor and purity more fiercely than men would. She most likely believed that this would prevent them from bearing the brunt of insults and abuses from their father and later stepfather.

Re-enacting scenes of violence and aggression, which they experienced daily in front of the cameras, Aya and Tayssir relive their traumas. Only their mother appears to be as challenging as steel, dismissively laughing at her maltreatment of men and their treatment of her. This is possibly her way of justifying her oppressive behavior, even towards her daughters. "She put us through everything she went through herself," says Aya, delivering a poignant verdict.

Watching "Four Daughters" sometimes feels akin to observing live family therapy. Each woman recalls and reacts to their shared experiences differently, drawing individual conclusions. The roles of Rahma and Ghofrane were taken on by actresses, who developed a sisterly bond with the younger daughters.

"Four daughters" are fighting for an Oscar.
"Four daughters" are fighting for an Oscar.© Press materials

While one might assume that the strength of sisterhood amongst Olfa's daughters would be remarkably resilient, it doesn't mean they follow the same path. In Kaouther Ben Hani's film, the younger girls recall their past interests with a sense of disbelief. Today, Aya laughingly admits to enjoying wearing a veil as an eight-year-old and advising older girls about decency. The realization of their sisters' continued devotion to Allah's teachings and their radicalization only truly hits them at this point.

Since 2015, Rahma and Ghofrane have been on international terrorist lists. Their husbands are suspected of organizing terrorist attacks in Tunisia. For years, Olfa engaged the police, the prosecutor's office, and the media to locate her daughters, but would their return be a joyful reunion for all five women? The fear of the future appears to outweigh all the evil they've already faced.

The Oscar-nominated documentary starkly outlines each character's fate: a mix of longing, misunderstanding, and anger. Among the young generation, a rebellion is building against oppression and religious dogmas and their loved ones, too. Olfa chooses to believe that the cycle of violence remains unbroken, but her youngest daughters refuse to leave their fate passively in the hands of chance. "This family destroyed you, but I won't let it destroy me!" declares Tayssir defiantly. Change is coming and cannot be stopped.

A scene from the movie "Cztery siostry"
A scene from the movie "Cztery siostry"© Press materials
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