Fremont (2023)

September 13th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Babak Jalali | Cast: Anaita Wali Zara, Jeremy Allen White, Gregg Tarkington, Siddique Ahmed | US Drama 91′

An Afghan translator from war-torn Kabul reinvents herself as a fortune cookie writer in this succinct but memorable immigration story directed and written by award-winning filmmaker Babak Jalali and his co-writer Carolina Cavalli (Amanda) and starring Anaita Wali Zara in a stunning screen debut.

Unfolding in glowing monochrome tableaux like a neorealist drama of the 1940s this ravishing arthouse feature, lensed by Laura Valladao, takes place in present day Fremont, a suburb of San Francisco.

Simply told yet complex, captivating and thematically rich Jalali draws us into the everyday life of world-weary Donya, a young woman who finds the petty trivialities of western society completely out of sync with her fraught past in Afghanistan.

Jalali uses a clever narrative device – an impromptu consultation with psychiatrist, Dr Anthony (Turkington) – to flesh out Donya’s backstory. She went to him requesting sleeping tablets but ends up revealing how, working as a translator for the army, she financed her passage to America, and how she would have happily gone anywhere to escape her past. And so these amusing sessions get underway providing the connective tissue for Donya’s days at the handmade fortune cookie company where she endures a humdrum existence until Daniel (Robert Mitchum/ Dustin Hoffmann lookalike Jeremy Allen White) pops into the equation, and sparks fly.

Jalali exposes San Francisco’s lively immigrant population in amusing vignettes: A Chinese co-worker takes advantage of Donya selling her expensive coffee when the office machine breaks down, a Chinese lute player entertains us briefly with his soulful vibes, and various diners read aloud their fortune cookie massages giving the film context and textural richness. Fremont benefits from its sleek running time; there is nothing spare or redundant in this quirky gem. MT


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