The family that prays together stays together, with entirely chilling consequences, in Of Fathers and Sons, an intrepid, cold sweat-inducing study of Jihadi radicalization in the home from celebrated Syrian docmaker Talal Derki. Delivering on the auspicious promise of his 2013 debut, the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Return to Homs, Derki’s follow-up finds him again visiting his ravaged homeland to examine the making of an anti-government force: this time not spiky rebel insurgents, but unformed young boys under the absolute influence of their Al-Nusra fighter father. The result is as despairing as any portrait of close-knit family and dedicated parenthood can be, adeptly blending sensationalism with domestic intimacy, and sincerely eye-opening in its portrayal of inherited Islamist fervor.
The filmmaker explains at the outset how he convinced Al-Nusra Front member and father of eight Abu Osama that he was a jihadist-sympathizing photojournalist out to make a supportive documentary portrait. Having outlined his ploy, however, Derki subsequently draws less attention to his own presence in proceedings. This proves prudent: Much of the appalling footage captured by cinematographer Kahtan Hassoun’s probing, silently curious camera requires no further commentary or editorialization. It’s for viewers, meanwhile, to parse the tricky disconnect between the film’s occasional, relatable tenderness as a family portrait and the alienating principles of prejudice and violence that ultimately bond this brood above all else.
Guy Lodge, Variety