We do not live in subtle times, and of all nuance-annihilating topics, few are as dramatically divisive as jihadism. Which makes Mohammed Ben Attia’s delicate portrait of devastation, Dear Son, remarkable for the quietness of its approach, its rich, calm, generous characterizations, and the compassion it evokes for extremism’s more indirect victims. After his award-winning 2016 debut Hedi, which was, like Dear Son, co-produced by the Dardenne brothers, Ben Attia has confirmed himself as an unassuming auteur of ordinary life in Tunisia, in which global, block-capital concerns are writ in intimate, personal cursive.
The film is both anchored and elevated by a performance of simple, radiant decency from Mohamed Dhrif […]. He plays Riadh, a Tunisian dock worker married to Nazli (Mouna Mejri […]) who is the pragmatic foil to Riadh’s slightly impractical optimism. Their son, Sami (Zakaria Ben Ayed) is about to take his Baccalaureate exams and has been suffering from migraines. […] [C]oncern for the meek and rather withdrawn Sami’s well being is the only scudding cloud in the gentle blue sky of Riadh and Nazli’s lives.
In its focus not on Sami, whose motivations are unknowable, but on Riadh, […], [Dear Son] depicts little outright violence and yet has a ferocious emotional impact, making us live with and love this good man, while almost without him noticing, his world explodes.
Jessica Kiang, Variety