The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘You Resemble Me’: An extraordinary directorial debut from Dina Amer

The film, based on actual events, is a deeply meaningful meditation on narrative itself

Mouna Soualem is one of three actresses to play the adult Hasna in “You Resemble Me.” (You Resemble Me)
(3.5 stars)

Hasna (Lorenza Grimaudo) and Mariam (Ilonna Grimaudo) are sisters, born two years apart but raised like twins; at 9 and 7, they run wild in the streets of suburban Paris while their mother sleeps at home. When they return, they’re met not with maternal love and concern, but with exploitation and, often, a beating. After one such explosive interlude, the girls run away, sending them on a journey that begins in sisterly solidarity but ends in tragedy.

At one point, the girls are separated, and it’s Hasna’s life that filmmaker Dina Amer chronicles in “You Resemble Me,” an extraordinary directorial debut based on actual events in which form and content fuse to discover a new cinematic language. Traumatized by her past and the wrenching way Mariam was taken from her, Hasna copes by splintering off her identities — Moroccan immigrant, Parisian party girl, sexual libertine, tomboyish hothead — even as she desperately seeks to integrate them in the form of home and family.

Using three actresses to play the adult Hasna, including Amer herself, the filmmaker gracefully dramatizes dissociation, both as a survival mechanism and as an increasingly fraught form of acting out. As portrayed first by Grimaudo and later by Amer, Sabrina Ouazani and Mouna Soualem, Hasna emerges as a fascinating but also troubling screen heroine, a courageous protector of the defenseless whose instincts have nowhere to go when Mariam disappears from her life.

“You Resemble Me” would be a vivid, beautifully acted reflection of dispossession and cultural dislocation if it stayed one thing. But, like its mercurial protagonist, it changes shape to become a deeply meaningful meditation on narrative itself, blending fact and fiction into a seamlessly poetic whole. There are moments when the emotions become almost too highly pitched, but that makes sense as Amer’s strategy becomes clear. The Dickensian atmosphere of Hasna and Mariam’s childhood winds up having disastrous real-world implications, as the older sister takes increasingly drastic actions to find her place in a world that either doesn’t see her or doesn’t want her.

Like Heidi Ewing’s 2020 film “I Carry You With Me,” Amer’s portrait is both delicately impressionistic and stunningly revelatory. Amer has taken an otherwise disposable headline and plumbed its most nuanced and psychologically complex depths, with the result that the audience may never see news stories nearly as simplistically. In this way, she’s done nothing less than change the world — or at least how we perceive it.

Unrated. At Angelika Mosaic and Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains adult themes, profanity, some smoking and violence. In French and Arabic with subtitles. 91 minutes.