In this gentle, offbeat comedy, Babak Jalali meets the lonely realities of displacement with sensitivity and hope
Babak Jalali’s Fremont warmly posits, what if the American Dream made more room for empathy? In this quietly irreverent and impactful portrait of refugee isolation and self-determination, we follow Donya, a young immigrant Afghan woman who is an insomniac and former US Army translator. Working at a fortune cookie factory in Northern California, she has settled into American mundanity, and been rendered listless by routine. She experiences pangs of conscience about longing for a more stimulating existence while so many still suffer in her native Kabul. Anaita Wali Zada gives a star-making performance, utterly magnetic as the laconic but perceptive Donya.
Fremont has a deceptive nothing-really-happens rhythm and riding this understated flow is illumination: phatic communion takes on depth, revealing poignant perspective (“People with memories write beautifully”) and cultural ignorance (Donya has to repeatedly clarify the basics about her Afghan identity). Beautiful dialogue, simultaneously blunt and tender, (“Fall in love first and worry about the rest later”; “Do you think sad mothers bring up sad children?”) manifests between Donya and the mellow figures who surround her, from her tactless but present psychiatrist to her considerate neighbours to a restaurant waiter whose eccentric sensibility befits David Lynch’s What Did Jack Do? Jeremy Allen White is an exciting addition to the third act as an attentive, brooding mechanic who, dressed in overalls, dutifully realises his Twitter-anointed title of 'the working woman’s Timothée Chalamet.'
Fremont is sublime, intimate filmmaking that urges a simple effort: opening ourselves up to understanding and helping one another.