Red Lorry Day 03: Amal, and Wicked Little Letters explore women's freedom of expression

Karishma Jangid
New Update
Red Lorry Day 3

Amal portrays a teacher addressing issues of religion and sexuality in her classroom, while Wicked Little Letters" mixes humour and feminism in a story about women cursing and owning their voices.

Having previously watched 'Black Tea' and 'Tatami' on day 1 of Red Lorry Film Festival which explored female perspective across different cultures, day 3 of this festival was no different! It appears I have a penchant for such films, and Red Lorry satisfied my interest well. On the last day, I watched 'Amal' and 'Wicked Little Letters'—films that depict what happens when women challenge societal norms.

Amal is a secondary school teacher in Brussels, France. She introduces the works of queer Muslim author Abu Nawas to her class after students bully her student, Monia (Kenza Benbouchta), for being a lesbian. The deeply conservative students think Monia's sexuality is an affront to their religion and assault her. As Monia embraces her identity and Amal defends her, the situation escalates dangerously.

Also Read: Red Lorry Day 02: Perfect Days' charm, Sulis 1907's revolt, and The Girl in the Trunk's horror

When the film began, I was skeptical. France is often accused of being Islamophobic. Hence, watching a French movie that critiques radical Islamic beliefs could really challenge one's religious biases. However, the film is not Islamophobic. It questions religious practices that condemn freedom of expression. The film exposes the insecurity that drives some religious people to impose their beliefs on others, believing it is their duty to correct dissenters. It examines the mob mentality that enables religious harassment and the expectation for the victims of such harassment to protect themselves, as religion is often viewed as a sacred, untouchable norm. 

The film presents young students in an intriguing and genuine way, exploring the dual nature of religion. It challenges the idea that young people aren't religious. Jalila's (Ethelle Gonzalez) story powerfully shows how deep religious beliefs can influence the youth, even leading them to support harmful gender roles. On the other hand, Amal also reveals that young people can think for themselves, as seen in Monia's brave actions. It explores the significant but limited role of teachers too. Amal and Nabil (Fabrizio Rongione) represent opposing approaches: one encourages freedom, while the other strongly opposes it, highlighting that teachers can guide but not control their students’ beliefs and actions.

Along with insightful commentary, Amal features exceptional acting. Azabal captivates with her precise portrayal of intense emotions. Rongione's understated performance is equally impressive. Gonzalez also stands out remarkably, making you truly despise her character. Jawad Rhalib's sensitivity as a writer and brilliance as a director shine through in the portrayal of his characters. His ethical approach is also evident in the film's subject matter and the nuanced perspectives it presents.

After watching this intense film, I switched to something equally serious but hilarious! Cuss words and women have a strange relationship—most cuss words objectify women, yet when women use them, everyone suddenly becomes a manners expert. Imagine that! Typically, swearing is seen as a man’s game. The ethics of swearing? That’s a discussion for another day. But watching ‘Wicked Little Letters’ was a blast. In the film, women not only curse freely but also take control of their lives. And guess what? It's based on a true story, which is just the icing on the cake! When Edith Swan (Olivia Colman), a mild and devout Christian, receives her 19th abusive letter, her father accuses their outspoken neighbor, Rose Gooding (Jessie Buckley) for the harassment. Rose, a single mom, ends up in jail but insists she is innocent. The ‘woman police officer’ Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan), also finds evidence supporting Rose. So, the hunt begins to uncover the real culprit behind the letters.

The plot of the film is simple and somewhat predictable. Yet, it surprises us with how the magic of movies can reflect real life’s unexpected twists. Set during the peak of the suffragette movement, the film doesn’t preach. Instead, it uses women's everyday experiences to weave a hilarious story. It still touches on the persistent societal pressures that women can’t seem to shake off. Edith is in denial about her controlling, toxic father. She thinks she's devoted her life to religion, but her actions tell a different story. Rose, an Irish migrant and single mother, is fiercely independent yet cannot dodge the repercussions of her choices. Gladys faces the challenges of working in a predominantly male and sexist police force, often seeking inspiration from her late father. These women strive to fit into a patriarchal society but can’t ignore the toll it takes on them. The film skillfully covers these tough truths with humor, making it a great pick whether you're into comedy with a touch of feminism or just the laughs.

The three actors bring their roles to life with such conviction, it's impossible not to adore them. Colman, as you might expect, nails her part. Anjana Vasan shines with a perfect mix of humor and hardship. Buckley, though sometimes not quite convincing, still keeps us entertained. The entire cast does a great job supporting the lead actresses. Each character subtly reveals their personal struggles. Yet, what truly captures the essence of Wicked Little Letters is how the actors, while masking their pain, end up being hilariously authentic. Perhaps that exactly is the beauty of Wicked Little Letters!

Amal, and Wicked Little Letters were premiered in India at BookMyShow's Red Lorry Film Festival.

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