Review: Foreign Body

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Foreign Body screens on Friday at 10 a.m. at Aperture 1, on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Aperture 1 and on April 8 at 7 p.m. at Aperture 2.

The three primary characters in Foreign Body are all compromised in some way.

Samia, the undocumented Tunisian immigrant who makes her way to a café in Lyon after plunging into the Mediterranean when her vessel capsizes, is smart and somewhat impulsive. Played affectingly by Sarra Hannachi, Samia’s shipwrecked vulnerability at the outset of the film tricks viewers into seeing her as immigrant trope — a kind of plucky innocent — but a more complex character soon emerges. Having escaped her abusive, Islamic extremist brother, we learn that she has betrayed her family to earn her liberation. Maybe she had no choice, but it she seems strangely unburdened by the consequences.

Imed, a friend of Samia’s brother and her first contact in Lyon (played by Salim Kechiouche), seems torn by the pieties of his former life in Tunisia and the more relaxed social standards of France. Kechiouche manages to project both compassion and menace in the role.

The recently widowed Madame Bertau (played by Hiam Abbass) is at first guarded against Samia, whom she takes in as a helper and companion. As an Arab-French woman who married into wealth, she sees something of herself in Samia, and also seems driven by some restlessness to open up more of her life than seems prudent. Soon enough, Imed’s obsession with Samia propels him into both women’s lives. The erotically charged triangle that develops between the three provocatively blurs personal boundaries.

Director Raja Amari places the personal before the political, focusing on desire and intimacy. Her characters’ flaws make them all the more relatable, even if their disturbing traits seem sometimes to outweigh their virtues. The tensions between migration and nativism, Islam and secularism, and cultural ties and opportunity are omnipresent in Foreign Body, but they don’t define the characters so much as establish the terrain for their fraught encounters with one another.

— Jordan Green