FREMONT is a film that displays confidence with calmness. An engaging but restrained lead performance from Anaita Wali Zada and an unassuming but pleasant visual style make Babak Jalali’s feature a gently wry and intriguing portrait of one type of immigrant experience in the USA.
Zada leads as Donya, an Afghan resettled in Fremont, having left Kabul on evacuation flights after working as a translator for the US military. To briefly escape Fremont each day – dense with her compatriots – she commutes to San Francisco to work in a fortune cookie factory. Her co-worker encourages her to try dating, but Donya is clearly unsettled and seeks sleeping pills from Dr. Anthony (Gregg Turkington) to aid her insomnia. He convinces her to have recurring therapy sessions while we view her experiences at work and home (and some forays further afield later in the film).
There is an endearingly deadpan quality to FREMONT that Anaita Wali Zada – a former journalist and an Afghan refugee herself – handles with aplomb. Her matter-of-fact delivery of Donya’s observations to Dr. Anthony is never hysterically funny but elicits many pleasant, low-key chuckles. This result is especially the case when juxtaposed against the doctor’s tendency to relate his observations back to Jack London’s White Fang, precisely the sort of minor absurdity in which FREMONT revels. The abrupt death of a co-worker is played humorously, and the editing and framing around it heightens the comedic feel of the moment. The film also puts forward some optimistic moments. A late appearance by Jeremy Allen White as a generous mechanic provides a warm, welcome presence, and he shows good chemistry with Anaita Wali Zada.
“FREMONT has a slight acidity in its script. Donya’s assertion that she never bothered to imagine what America was like when asked if it met her expectations is a delicate puncturing of the shining-city-on-the-hill mindset.”
Nevertheless, FREMONT has a slight acidity in its script. Donya’s assertion that she never bothered to imagine what America was like when asked if it met her expectations is a delicate puncturing of the shining-city-on-the-hill mindset. The American Dream of individualist success is also subtly prodded at with Donya’s boss giving an elaborate story of his father stating that “virtue stands in the middle”, an unknowing admission that to succeed, one must conform and, in some ways, not stand out. There is the occasional minor inelegance, such as when Dr. Anthony seemingly lays out the concept of survivor guilt – already more than evidently present – in ridiculous expository detail. However, these are few and far between and more than offset by the piece’s engaging central performance and overall approach and tone.
“…the film will draw comparisons with Jim Jarmusch’s filmography [but] the deadpan humour and inversion of the chasing-the-dream immigrant experience perhaps share more connective thematic tissue with Ben Sharrock’s LIMBO”
The laconic, low-key nature of the film will draw comparisons with Jim Jarmusch’s filmography, especially the black-and-white photography of COFFEE AND CIGARETTES. However, the deadpan humour and inversion of the chasing-the-dream immigrant experience perhaps share more connective thematic tissue with Ben Sharrock’s LIMBO (also shot mainly, as FREMONT is, in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio that encourages lingering on its protagonist’s expressions). That film similarly showed an out-of-step individual who has not necessarily chosen their precise route away from strife in their homeland, with the accompanying sense of survivor’s guilt dampening their experiences thereafter.
FREMONT rarely puts a foot wrong, even if the walking speed is meandering to the point of dallying. Despite the odd under-explored strand (such as her neighbour Suleyman’s antipathy towards her translation work for the US military), FREMONT is a gentle but engaging examination of a woman seeking a dream, hamstrung by her numbness towards her current life.