Film review: ‘Dear Son’ is a superb study of a failing family

A still from the film. (Image supplied)
Updated 27 September 2018
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Film review: ‘Dear Son’ is a superb study of a failing family

  • Director Mohamed Ben Attia explores the concepts of freedom and free will in ‘Dear Son’
  • Attia makes a superbly subtle transition in his second film, from what was essentially a familial issue in “Hedi” to the broader, more frightening world of terrorism

EL GOUNA: Tunisian writer-director Mohamed Ben Attia made his mark with his first feature, “Hedi,” in which a young man challenged familial and societal norms by marrying the woman of his choice, a decision seen as a radical move in his conservative Islamic community.

Attia further explores the concepts of freedom and free will in his second film, “Dear Son,” which screened this week at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt, but this time the auteur moves into much darker territory, exploring the deadly ramifications that can reach far beyond the family unit.

Mohamed Dhrif, a largely unknown veteran television actor, enriches the film with a memorably controlled performance as a father, Riadh, whose world collapses when his 19-year-old son, Sami (Zakaria Ben Ayed), disappears without any warning. Given his less-than-warm relationship with his wife Nazli (Mouna Mejri), Riadh has instead focused on being a doting father to his son, obsessively worrying about the teenager’s frequent migraine attacks. With doctors unsure whether the headaches have a deeper psychological cause, and Sami stressed out about approaching academic exams, Riadh’s anxieties keep multiplying.

Attia makes a superbly subtle transition in his second film, from what was essentially a familial issue in “Hedi” to the broader, more frightening world of terrorism. Although the family unit, a very small one at that, in “Dear Son” appears to be solid, with loving parents who care more for their son, Attia hints at the influences outside the home that can have a far stronger grip on an impressionable teenager. This extremist plot is introduced later in the movie, though before this Attia offers broad hints of what is to come when he shows us a street demonstration that disturbs Sami.

But in the end, this is really the story of a father grappling with his own demons while on a journey to find his son.


What We Are Reading Today: The Proof and the Pudding by Jim Henle

Updated 21 October 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Proof and the Pudding by Jim Henle

  • Pleasurable and lighthearted, The Proof and the Pudding is a feast for the intellect as well as the palate

Tie on your apron and step into Jim Henle’s kitchen as he demonstrates how two equally savory pursuits — cooking and mathematics — have more in common than you realize. A tasty dish for gourmets of popular math, The Proof and the Pudding offers a witty and flavorful blend of mathematical treats and gastronomic delights that reveal how life in the mathematical world is tantalizingly similar to life in the kitchen.

Take a tricky Sudoku puzzle and a cake that fell. Henle shows you that the best way to deal with cooking disasters is also the best way to solve math problems. Or take an L-shaped billiard table and a sudden desire for Italian potstickers. He explains how preferring geometry over algebra (or algebra over geometry) is just like preferring a California roll to chicken tikka masala. Do you want to know why playfulness is rampant in math and cooking? Or how to turn stinky cheese into an awesome ice cream treat? It’s all here: original math and original recipes plus the mathematical equivalents of vegetarianism, Asian fusion, and celebrity chefs.

Pleasurable and lighthearted, The Proof and the Pudding is a feast for the intellect as well as the palate. Jim Henle is the Myra M. Sampson Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Smith College. His books include Sweet Reason: A Field Guide to Modern Logic and Calculus: The Language of Change. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.