[SXSW 2023] Review : Fremont is a quietly eccentric exploration of alienation

Anaita Wali Zada appears in ‘Fremont’ by Babak Jalali | Photo by Laura Valladao

‘Fremont’ is the fourth feature film from writer-director Babak Jalali, whose earlier directorial efforts like ‘Frontier Blues’, Radio Dreams’ and ‘Land’ also graced the major festival circuits. Co-written with writer-director and novelist Carolina Cavalli, ‘Fremont’ is a low-key, quietly eccentric and emotional exploration of alienation and the desire for human understanding.

Led by Anita Wali Zada – who makes her acting debut in this very film – ‘Fremont’ follows Donya, a young woman whose upheaval from Afghanistan to the titular Californian city has left her feeling rudderless. Despite her best efforts to assimilate into the local community, a mindless job at a fortune cookie factory isn’t quite enough to drown out painful memories of the life (and family) she left behind.

With the unconventional support of a psychiatrist played by comedian-actor Gregg Turkington –  whose reliably hilarious deadpan is perfectly suited to the unique tone of ‘Fremont’ – Donya discovers that her feelings of internal discord and alienation are in fact a point of connection to those around her, and embarks upon a soul-searching journey within herself, her community and the world around her.

Jalali’s film deftly straddles the line between comedy and drama, allowing his cast to find their own tempo in both its most amusing and most poignant moments. There are appearances from some rather surprising figures from the worlds of cinema and television, all of which leave their own mark on the tapestry of Donya’s life. It’s a subtly impactful movie that could sit comfortably as a double-billing with David Lynch’s ‘The Straight Story’, but stands tall as a work of its own unique and compelling perspectives.

Casting : Kingsley, Boutella, Balfe, Bosnahan, Fishburne, Hudgens

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