"...looks and feels different than everything else that’s playing anywhere."

A Little Indy Film That Looks Like Nothing Else

(092123) {Immigrants} whisper in a dark parent bed, that dark parent fear. Will they like our fine American boy, our fine American girl?’- From “Immigrants” by Pat Mora

Theatres are currently showing a third Greek wedding film, a new Ninja turtles origin film (which to be fair opened to positive reviews) , a fourth Expendables, and Meg 2: The Trench, a sequel to a film about a killer prehistoric shark. And In the near future we will also see the release of a new entry in the Hunger Games series as well as the Captain Marvel sequel, The Marvels.

But for viewers seeking originality and who want to escape the constant onslaught of sequels, franchise films and remakes, Fremont (which opened to considerable acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival) is an excellent alternate choice. For good and bad, this deadpan absurdist minimalist film looks and feels different than everything else that’s playing anywhere.

The film is named after a quiet little town in the San Francisco bay area where it is set in which according to the film not much ever occurs. The area is known as “the hardware side of the bay.” As it happens the real town is filled with many immigrants. The film has a great sense of place and it makes you almost feel like you are visiting a new territory in person. It also makes you empathize with the plight of the immigrants and (like the Pat Mora poem and the
R.M.N. film) their fear of not being able to assimilate.

Fremont is a humble, beautiful little film about small everyday pleasures like blind dates, gossip between friends, and the modest satisfaction of working at a job that you like which allows you to get by.

The new film also has a Chicago connection because it features one of the first major film roles from, Jeremy Allen White, who was featured in Shameless and is currently in the acclaimed Chicago based show The Bear (on Hulu). His character appears to have a crush on the female lead and shows up towards the end in a small but memorable role,

The film was directed by Balik Jalili, an Iranian immigrant who did an acclaimed short and several well received full length features (Frontier Blues, Radio Dreams and Land). He obviously related to the story about a Middle Eastern immigrant who goes overseas. The film is about Donya, an Afghan exile living in a little town in California where she can be anonymous and keep away from death. She is played by Anaita Wali Zada, a real-life Afghan immigrant who is acting for the first time in a film, and she is perfect for the role. Her face is a bit blank and hard to read. She comes off like someone who is detached and has gone through some great trauma or is hiding her emotions and feeling numb.

Early on Donya gets in to see a psychiatrist by basically staring the receptionist down and making persistent demands of her to see the doctor despite the fact she has no appointment. Donya wants sleeping medicine because she has had trouble relaxing at night perhaps because she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from her days when she worked as a translator for the Afghan troops in a war. The shrink hypothesizes that she is suffering from survivor’s guilt which prevents her from sleeping. Because of her work helping the troops she was granted a special visa and she decided to leave and live in the US and she narrowly escaped before the Taliban took over.

Although she is withdrawn and timid seeming she has a kind of quiet power and a great clarity of purpose. Soon she gets a job writing fortunes for cookies in a Chinese restaurant. Although the job sight is not close, it at least allows Donya to escape her dreary town. The only problem is that the owner’s wife resents that he gives the young woman his attention and she tries to get Donya fired,

Her doctor (Greg Turkington) is quite eccentric. He is completed obsessed with the book, White Fang by Jack London. He also makes a kind of weird art project using fortunes that he wrote that were obviously done to impress his patient. Many of the men in the film seem to have crushes on her but she usually is uninterested in reciprocating. But she probably thinks that that she should not be concerned with romance while her countrymen are still dying in her native Kabul.

Like the poem,” Immigrants” by Pat Mora, the film shows some of the negative sides of coming to the United States. Even though she has Afghan neighbors, she is highly isolated and her only apparent friend is another Afghan woman. Not everyone welcomes her with open arms. Her friend’s husband hates her for what she did in the war (collaborating with Americans) and he refuses to even speak to her.

Not everyone is mean to her, and a few people try to engage her in conversation. She hangs out in a bar where a man constantly watches TV and tries to befriend her. He says in a matter-of-fact manner “I can’t tell if this series is interesting or my own life is uninteresting.”

The film is shot in gorgeous black and white with excellent cinematography by Laura Valladao, and it looks glorious though not contemporary. The lighting and slow pacing make the film reminiscent of early 80s Jim Jarmusch films like Stranger than Paradise and Down by Law as well as the later Patterson.

In the future, Fremont could go down in history as either a classic or a not totally confidant first work by a major film maker who went on to better things. I suspect it will fall somewhere in between. Although I liked the film very much, it feels slightly unfinished and it seems like it was made by a director who is finding his niche or way.

But it manages to achieve a kind of splendor in its celebration of the everyday, the banal and little, tangible pleasures. But for someone who has gone through terrible events this life could seem like heaven. Fremont is a fine and special film made of all the parts most films would probably leave out and it may stay in your memory longer than the typical big event films.

Directed by:    Babak Jalali
Written by:    Carolina Cavalli and Babak Jalali
Starring:    Anaita Wali Zada, Gregg Turnington, Jeremy Allen
Released:    09/25/23 (USA)
Length:    92 minutes
Rating:    Not Rated
Available On:    At press time the film was playing at Chicago area

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the next session of the Monthly Poetry Show on the first Saturday of every month at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 7-9 at 3324 South Halsted hosted by Vittorio Carli.

-Upcoming Features-
October 7 -Christian Coalfield, Shontay Luna, Michael Peirson and Eric Sirota

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All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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