The Tunisian film “Four Daughters” was shortlisted in the 2024 Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Film, and it also recently won the Orient Award for Best Documentary Film at the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival in its first Arab showing, after a tour of the international festivals in which it participated. During which he won many awards.
In the dramatic documentary, director Kawthar Ben Hania reviews a story that became famous on the pages of accidents and social media, about a family crisis that carried political, security, and educational dimensions as well.
Al Jazeera Net met the “Daughters of Olfa” crew, including director Kawthar Ben Haniyeh, and the team admitted what the film did not say.
Drama and documentation
The real story was documented by Ben Hania, to raise a discussion about the issue of violence and its sleeper cells through a simple family that witnessed a gradual transformation of stable life into a threat to the security of that family.
The events revolve around Olfa, the Tunisian mother of four girls (Rahma, Ghufran, Tayseer, and Aya), who live an ordinary life that seems stable despite poverty. That stability turns into a disastrous atmosphere after the two older sisters fall into the grip of terrorism and join one of the armed cells on the border in Libya.
Ben Hania tells Al Jazeera Net – about her film, in which she relied on a style that mixes documentary with drama – that she filmed the work at the beginning, specifically in 2016, in a documentary form, but she did not feel satisfied, and she found that what she filmed was not at the level of the complex, intertwined, and complicated story, filled with a mixture of the past. And the present and intimate with the political, historical and human.
Ben Hania adds, “I found the story confusing, so I decided that the best way to present it was to tell the story as I see it. I returned to work again on the film, and I started from wondering why a young woman with a promising future decided to flee her home and join an armed group, and here she comes.” The superficial answer that will come to mind is that poverty and ignorance are the two factors that produced this situation.”
The Tunisian director adds, “The real answer lies in returning to this family's past, which requires relying on reconstructing acting scenes, which is a cinematic cliché, but I decided to turn it to the benefit of the film.”
Hence, Kawthar decided to mix in “Daughters of Olfa” the actors and real characters, namely Olfa and her two young daughters, as they direct the actors, and the actors ask them questions, so that the audience is present and witnesses all the details and a part of them.
Ben Hania benefited from the ability of Olfa and her two daughters to tell stories and use the simple popular language. The stories came in a funny way and without relying on a written scenario, and their reactions were natural.
The director says, “Their ability to tell stories and delve into themselves was surprising, and they had great courage to talk about difficult things.” She continued, “Despite their lack of experience, they were able to quickly understand the techniques and the camera.”
In addition to Olfa and her two daughters, Majd Mastoura, Ishraq Matar, and Nour Karoui participate in the film, as well as Hend Sabry, whose choice to present the character “Olfa” said that the director was looking for a reason to cooperate with this actress.
Ben Hania continues, “In the early stages of preparing the film, the mother (Olfa) watched the movie (Flower of Aleppo), in which Hend Sabry presented the character of a Tunisian mother searching for her son who traveled to Syria after joining violent cells. She jokingly said that she hoped it would be (Olfa’s Daughters). ) Better than Hend Sabry's movie, which she loves.
The director said, “When the idea of the film changed, I also sought help from Hend Sabry, because the personal temperaments between the actress and the character are different. Olfa has a tragic and dramatic side, and she cries and laughs quickly, but Hend, the human being, has a distance from things and patience, which is a contradiction that will be useful in understanding the mother’s character from many different angles.” .
Ben Hania justifies choosing Majd Mastoura to present all the male characters in the film, “There is more than one reason, including the presence of multiple female characters. If you did the same thing with the male characters, the matter would become complicated, and I found that it would be easier for Mastoura to play all the male roles.”
Nour Karoui presents the character of Rahma (one of Olfa’s daughters), who joined the violent cells. The Tunisian actress commented, saying, “The experience was not easy because the work depends on improvisation without a script, and I prepared for the character through the videos of Rahma and Ghufran spread on the Internet, in addition to what I know about… The story, and then the work sessions with Ben Hania, and joining the family of Olfa and her two daughters, as if I were one of them, to understand their way of life and expression.”
She continued – in her talk to Al Jazeera Net – that she felt that there was something linking her to the character of Rahma, as she was a teenager trying to prove herself in every way, and from here she became involved with those groups.
Actress Ishraq Matar – who played the character of Ghufran – says that the difficulty she faced during filming was entering the character of Ghufran, then returning to her character Ishraq, and vice versa and repeating the matter, because she appears as Ghufran and Ishraq within the scenes.
Matar added, “The experience was a great challenge. The normal thing is to have a scenario, but the film depends on a different narrative, and I benefited from my work in theater in improvisational scenes.”
She considered that the most difficult scenes in the film were the representation of death, the torment of the grave, judgment, and flogging, in addition to other scenes that were not included in the final version of the film, as filming took place for an entire month for long hours.