Fremont

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Fremont
"In many ways Fremont is advocating the importance of accepting that a life can be both average and fulfilling." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) lives in Fremont in San Francisco’s Bay area, although she’s originally from Afghanistan, where she worked as a translator for the US Army before the Taliban returned to power. Now she works in a fortune cookie-makers alongside her co-worker Joanna (Hilda Schmelling), eating alone in a restaurant where the owner is hooked on soap operas and returning back to her flat where she fails to sleep at night. She’s not alone as it turns out and a neighbour gives her his psychiatry appointments, where she has conversations with Dr Anthony (Gregg Turkington) that often take a quiet turn for the absurd.

The film is redolent of Jim Jarmusch, not just the handsome black and white lensing from Laura Valladao but its deadpan, vignette nature, both of which recall, in particular, Coffee And Cigarettes. That’s not to say that there isn’t a narrative here, but this is as much about the emotional mileage Donya goes through as the physical trip she makes towards the end of the film that will lead to a brief but beautifully worked supporting role from The Bear hot property Jeremy Allen White.

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Jalali and his co-writer Carolina allow their ideas to gently infuse through the odd little moments in Donya’s life. Things don’t feel weighty in terms of content, in fact there’s a strong strand of droll humour, not least from Dr Anthony, with Turkington somehow keeping his shrink’s reflections on Jack London’s White Fang just on the right side of meaningful while also being faintly absurd. Yet, despite this, they achieve a culmulative power that's hard to resist.

In many ways Fremont is advocating the importance of accepting that a life can be both average and fulfilling. As her boss tells her in long conversation about the “responsibility” of writing fortune messages and striking a balance, “virtue stands in the middle”.

For all the enjoyable quirkiness of the script, it’s the cast that really add the extra sweetness. Zada gives Donya a stillness that could initially be mistaken for watchfulness but which is, in fact, more observational and less apprehensive than that and praise is also due to Schmelling who brings an unexpected poignancy to a spot of karaoke that might well might make you catch your breath.

Fremont is a subtle treat that, like a good fortune cookie, delivers a sweet little ending that is both enigmatic but satisfying.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2023
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Donya works for a Chinese fortune cookie factory in San Francisco. Formerly a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, she struggles to put her life back in order. In a moment of sudden revelation, she decides to send out a special message in a cookie.
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Director: Babak Jalali

Writer: Babak Jalali

Starring: Anaita Wali Zada, Jeremy Allen White, Gregg Turkington

Year: 2023

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


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