‘Four Daughters’ mixes documentary, fiction to portray Tunisian mother

By Miranda Murray

CANNES (Reuters) – Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania mixes fiction and documentary to capture the story of Olfa Hamrouni, whose older daughters left to fight for Islamic State in “Four Daughters,” her first entry for the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize.


The only Arab entry in competition follows Hamrouni, who drew international attention in 2016 for criticizing Tunisian authorities for failing to stop one of her daughters from fleeing to Libya to join her sister in fighting for the Islamic militant group.

“Taking a deeper look at the contradictions, the sensations, the emotions requires time that journalists do not have. It is the role of cinema to explore these areas, these ambiguities of the human spirit,” Ben Hania said in a news release.

For the film, Ben Hania wanted to show Hamrouni’s complexities but noticed she would fall into the well-trodden narrative of guilt-ridden mother whenever the camera was on.

“Olfa had been conditioned by journalists,” Ben Hania said.

The director worked around this conditioning by telling Hamrouni she was hiring well-known Tunisian actor Hind Sabri to portray her in a film and Hamrouni would have to prepare her.

Ben Hania also hired actors to play the missing daughters.

“By asking her questions about specific details, and her motivations, Hind Sabri allows Olfa to reflect on her past without indulging her,” said Ben Hania. “If Olfa had remained alone with me, she would have just served up the same story.”

Ben Hania walked the red carpet with the real-life Hamrouni and her two daughters, as well as the actors playing the missing daughters and Sabri for the film’s premiere on Friday evening.

Her last film, “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” was the Tunisian entry for best international feature at the 2021 Oscars.

(Reporting by Miranda Murray; editing by Jonathan Oatis)