REBEL the dazzling and audacious new film from Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Bad Boys for Life, Batgirl) tells the story of Kamal (Aboubakr Bensaihi), who resolves to change his life for the better, leaving Belgium to help war victims in Syria. But, having arrived, he is forced to join a militia and is left stranded in Raqqa. Back home, his younger brother Nassim (Amir El Arbi) quickly becomes easy prey for radical recruiters, who promise to reunite him with his brother. Their mother, Leila (Lubna Azabal), fights to protect the only thing she has left: her youngest son.
When I saw Bad Boys for Life in 2020, I would never in a thousand years have imagined the directors had a picture like Rebel in them. This is an ambitious, profound, and thoughtful film. Like Bad Boys, this is a film brimming with violence. But Rebel never uses violence to entertain, rather aiming to shock the audience or to underline or accentuate a point.
Rebel focuses on the Wasakis, a Belgian family with Moroccan roots. Kamal (Aboubakr Bensaihi) is the older brother, an idealistic drug dealer and rapper horrified by the atrocities he sees in the ongoing war in Syria. His younger brother Nassim is kind and impressionable. Devout matriarch Leila tries to watch over her boys. When Kamal travels to Syria as a volunteer, he believes he has found a non-violent way to make a difference. When he is captured by ISIS, he finds a different path forced upon him, one that will have also cause devastating effects back home.
Lubna Azabal gives a tortured performance as Leila. Her desperation to protect her family is visceral and raw. Bensaihi is phenomenal as Kamal. You believe the transformation he slowly goes through over the course of the film.
Kamal’s passion for rapping also provides one of the film’s most interesting elements – at times, the characters will break into musical interludes. Given the serious tone of the film, these moments could easily appear forced or interrupt the flow of the narrative. Luckily, Bensaihi’s talented flow and consistently gorgeous choreography keep this from occurring. The first such interlude, set in a Brussels’ restaurant, is particularly powerful.
Despite the balletic action and gorgeous cinematography, this is not an easy film to watch. But it provides important personalization for atrocities that the audience might otherwise write off due to stereotypes and misinformation. Atrocities that are still happening today.
Watch the Trailer!
In Theaters September 15, 2023
*Official Selection – 2022 Cannes Film Festival*
Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Bad Boys for Life, Batgirl)
Written by Adil El Arbi, Jan Van Dyck, Kevin Meul, and Bilall Fallah
Starring Aboubakr Bensaihi, Lubna Azabal, Amir El Arbi, Tara Abboud and Younes Bouab
Produced by Bert Hamelinch and Dimitri Verbeeck
RT: 135 minutes