A few years back, the news of a single mother, Olfa Hamrouni, losing two of her four daughters, Rahma and Ghofrane, to the influence of ISIS filled the Tunisian national news. In the hybrid documentary Four Daughters, director Kaouther Ben Hania develops a participatory environment with Hamrouni and her remaining two daughters in a processual exercise to come to terms with their traumatic familial past. The film begins with a protracted discussion surrounding its method, which involves professional actors reenacting traumatic episodes that are difficult for Hamrouni and her daughters.
From its outset, Ben Hania experiments with the language of the documentary towards a reparative mode of filming. She assembles disparate cinematic forms and processes, inflating the well-known axiom of non-fiction filmmaking as the “creative treatment of actuality.” They include her incorporation of mirror sequences, confessional portraits, group rehearsals, dramatic staging, and news footage, to name a few.
The film’s critical reflexivity does not remain unaided by its near-perfect diegetic design, which artfully manipulates factual information and plot points to sustain dramatic tension. This can also be seen in the episodic nature of the film’s collaborative approach, where Hamrouni and her daughters choose particular events relevant to mapping the family’s fate. They revisit, reflect, and try to recuperate together – the process itself becomes the film. Yet, what emerges from the filmmaking journey transcends the family’s private concerns to generate conversations around intergenerational trauma, sexual repression, religious fanaticism, and the everyday modalities of patriarchy. Four Daughters does not provide answers or undemanding targets of sympathy. It lays out a constellation of provocations through its inventive making, spilling over its runtime.