Donya can’t sleep and she is stuck in an endless cycle of work, eat, repeat. Director Babak Jalali portrays the isolating every day in Fremont.
Ananita Wali Zada plays Donya, a troubled young Afghan refugee that carries the guilt of getting out after serving as a translator for the US army. She spends her days writing the fortunes in fortune cookies and her nights fighting insomnia. She listens to her co-workers, humours her therapist, and that’s it. It is a small life that houses universal loneliness.
Zada, an Afghan herself, feels made for the role. She is able to create these small human moments that are almost completely hidden with exhaustion. Zada has these big sad eyes that don’t fully match her often deadpan exterior. They’re like windows with bars on the ledge; you can see the well of sadness, but you can’t make out the bottom.
“It is just as lonely to watch Fremont as the characters feel living there.”
Donya’s interactions with the people in her life are just as guarded. Whether she is talking to her awkward therapist (played by Gregg Turkington), her oddball friend from work (Hilda Schmelling), or her kind-hearted boss (Eddie Tang), she keeps them at arm’s length. This feels intentional by screenwriters Jalai and Carolina Cavalli, but it serves to keep the audience at arm’s length as well. It is just as lonely to watch Fremont as the characters feel living there.
This is a film defined by its atmosphere. The lack of plot or clear character development means that it hinges on feeling. This opens up a whole box of issues because how do you replicate that feeling at 2am when it feels like everyone is living except you?
Fremont’s problem is that while each individual piece is excellent, there is too much of it. Cinematographer Laura Valladao’s stunning black and white visuals are crisp. Every performance is authentic. Every bit of blocking is precise.
But Fremont stagnates with its feature status. No matter how technically good a scene may be it can die when great moments are left to drag on. It’s a shame Fremont couldn’t have been a short film instead that portrays the loneliness of love, immigration and alienation of your community in a swift 20 minutes.
“The music by Mahmood Schricker also transforms scenes from dreary to dreamy.”
That being said, Fremont is not an unpleasant experience. When Jeremy Allen White’s character is introduced in the third act, they feel like they soften the others’ pain. The two feel like a classic Hollywood pairing which feels strange when the previous hour has been an oddball look into a normal person’s life. Their short time together is the highlight of the film and definitely forgives many of the sins made by the runtime.
The music by Mahmood Schricker also transforms scenes from dreary to dreamy. The lack of score compliments the quiet setting but jazz-like interludes and renditions of Danny Boy on the Erhu, puncture the film with vivid sparks of inspiration.
Fremont is strange film. Its not boring, but it certainly won’t excite you either. It’s not empty, but it’s a struggle to find the gooey centre. Don’t write it off immediately though, Fremont is the type of film to linger. Maybe the point of the film just hasn’t woken up yet.
Fremont is set for a limited cinematic release on 15 September 2023.
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Featured Image Credit: Music Box Films