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Director: Kurdwin Ayub (Austria). Year of Release: 2022

A young woman’s bedroom in Austria. Her 2 friends are helping her put on her hijab. Neither of them wear hijab, and one has dyed blonde hair with prominent roots. They are all wearing make up. But it’s not long before they are all wearing the hijabs that Yesmin’s mother wears when she is praying. Then, they turn a telephone camera on and start singing along to REM’s Losing My Religion. They start posing for the camera, twerking and pointing their bums at the camera.

Losing My Religion is probably the most suitable song for what they are doing. Michael Stipe’s lyrics are so opaque that you’ve no idea what the song is about, so you concentrate on the title. On one level, singing about losing your religion while you are wearing a hijab is subversive. At the same time, in a racist country like Austria, appearing on social media and doing what every other kid does when you’re in a hijab is also subversive, for almost the opposite reason.

One of the girls (they’re barely women) puts the video online without asking Yesmin, Yesmin’s mother sees it and is incensed, believing that her daughter is making fun of her faith. Yesmin’s father Omar, on the other hand, thinks it’s hilarious, and tells his wife that Yesmin is just expressing herself. You get the feeling that there’s nothing that Yesmin could do which would cause her father not to take her side.

The video goes viral, and Yesmin’s father appoints himself as their manager. He drives them to Kurdish weddings, where they sing a surprizingly moving a capella version of the REM song. When they sneak some alcohol, he looks the other way. (This film contains more scenes than your average frat house movie of people puking into a litter bin and of women pissing outside).

The three girls are invited onto local talkshows where they are asked why they filmed the video. They say that they are not anti-religious but are strong advocates of women having the choice whether or not they wear a headscarf. When asked what they will do with their new-found fame, they say that they will use it to espouse good causes and inspire young girls. They sound like they mean it, but somewhere down the line, the good causes get lost in their search for online fun.

Yesmin and her mates hook up with 2 Kurdish lads who they meet at one of their performances. The lads are ambiguous towards their performance, especially that of Yesmin, the only one who regularly wears a headscarf. They argue that singing and dancing in a headscarf shows disrespect to Islam – in this sense, they are more like Yesmin’s mother than her father. Yesmin screams that doing whatever you like irrespective of your religion Is why she’s doing what she does.

One night, the police knock on Yesmin’s family’s door. They’re not there for her, but her brother Kerim, who, with his mates, has broken into a farm and filmed themselves slaughtering a pig. This is not just an offence to bourgeois property rights, it is also Haram. Until now, we have seen Kerim mainly in the background, fighting with his sister. You feel (and their mother says) he feels resentful that Omar obviously enjoys spending time with his daughter much more than with his son.

Sonne is chaotic, which reflects the girls’ lives, but also slightly undermines any point that it is trying to make. We have a lot of information thrown at us – the self-confidence of young women, a counter-narrative to the usual clichés of passive headscarf wearers, Yesmin’s mother’s relief that she has escaped an Iraqi society which is repressive towards Kurds. But the film’s visual incoherence means that these subjects aren’t explored as much as they could be.

Many scenes are shot in portrait format, reflecting the shape of a mobile phone showing a TikTok video. Faces are regularly put through a filter which adds ears or turns them into a sprig of broccoli. It sometimes gets quite exhausting and makes someone like me feel very old. As the girls effortlessly dance in front of the camera and communicate endlessly on social media, you have the feeling that the next generation’s lives run differently to yours.

On one level, the film contained too many snippets of information for me, and not enough explanation of what linked them all. This was partly due to the format – the scenes are filmed with the adrenaline rush of an ADHD affected toddler (or a teenager who lives on social media, the effects seem to be the same). So I’m quite willing to accept that what all felt too much for me will not cause any problems for people of a different generation.

The film is at its weakest for me when it is depicting normal teenage life. Yesmin and her friends Bella and Nati enjoy spending their time together talking bullshit. Then, for no apparent reason, they all fall out. Yesmin sends WhatsApp messages asking what is wrong. We watch in real time as no-one answers her. I’m not saying that these aren’t essential parts of Yesmin’s life, just that watching them felt both intrusive and slightly boring.

Nonetheless, this is a well-made account of what it’s like to be a second generation migrant in Austria today. Director Kurdwin Ayub is herself an Austrian Kurd, and you feel that she knows what she’s talking about. It is to the film’s credit that for much of the time, you’re not sure whether you’re watching a documentary or a drama. That sum of it is sometimes less exciting than the rest shouldn’t stop you from staying and watching the indubitably impressive parts.

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