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Cannes moved by film exploring girls' decision to join IS

How do two girls go from being typical teenagers, kissing boys, dying their hair blue and entertaining a gothic phase -- to joining the Islamic State?

"Four Daughters", which premiered on Friday at the Cannes Film Festival, explores the true story of how a mother comes to terms with the decision by two of her children to flee to Libya and join the extremist organization, and her responsibility for it.

Not quite a feature film and not quite a documentary, Oscar-nominated Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania uses the mother, Olfa Hamrouni, and her two remaining daughters alongside actresses to recreate scenes from their life.

Olfa recounts her own upbringing, with devastating tales of trying to protect a house of women from predatory men, and the brutality of her wedding night.

Initially a sympathetic character, complexities emerge as she is forced to confront how her desire to keep her daughters safe led her to repeat generational violence and trauma.

Viewers see Hamrouni as for the first time she hears her daughters recount their experiences of her as a mother, and her shock when she catches them giggling about growing breasts or exploring their bodies.

"It's clear she absorbed the conservative, male-oriented point of view that innocent girls are but one misstep away... from instant transformation into 'whores'," wrote Deadline magazine.

The violence of men, and Tunisia's politics throughout the Arab Spring are constantly in the background.

Even after losing two daughters to the Islamic State, and despite the fact she doesn't wear the hijab, she said she loved her daughters wearing it as it made her feel they were safer.

"Four Daughters is an enthralling narrative about memory, motherhood and the inherited traumas of a patriarchal society," said The Hollywood Reporter.

Deadline said it would be "a deserving winner" of the Palme D'Or, to be announced on May 27.

"I wanted to explore the violence that we transmit from mother to daughter that is not unique to Tunisian society," Ben Hania told AFP, calling it a "curse".

"The new world has yet to arrive," she said of Tunisia after the 2011 revolution and the rise of Islamists in the country.

© 2023 AFP