Olfa Hamrouni has four daughters: Eya, Tayssir, Ghofrane, and Rahma. However, the two eldest, Ghofrane and Rahma, disappeared from their home years ago, radicalized to run away and join ISIS. As Olfa and her youngest two daughters recount the memories of their lives before and after they left, they simultaneously unpack the consequences of where their femininity meets culture. They dissect the worlds and histories that have built them and bring to the forefront of their minds the subconscious yearning for all women to experience power.
Olfa, Eya, and Tayssir are around to tell their side of the story. Ghofrane and Rahma are not, so two actresses, Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui, respectively, fill their space in the film. They act as inserts in reenactments of sisterly moments, embodying the space they’ve left behind in the present by taking on the depictions of their memory.
Though their presence as actors is not forgotten, a by-proxy bond via the sharing of trauma makes their inclusion effective. When they enter the room to be introduced, the sisters immediately know who will portray each sister, and Olfa is moved to tears. Memories of laying in bed together, playing with each other’s hair, and running the gamut of sisterly conversations, like first periods, puberty tales, and boy gossip, feel utterly genuine. It’s a womanly bond playing as a sisterly bond, but the artifice enhances the authenticity of the film’s emotional core. However, the imbalance of impact among the women leaves a lingering question: at what emotional cost are these actors participating?
Actress Hend Sabry is Olfa’s insert, stepping into the story to reenact memories too painful for Olfa herself to embody. Yet many times, when Sabry is performing, Olfa is visible in the background—an omnipresent force in her fictionalized depiction, even stepping in to correct how it’s being told. “Four Daughters” prioritizes empowering its women to take ownership of telling their story while also allowing its actors to participate in it. Sabry will ask questions, challenge Olfa’s iron fist, and even call her out for enforcing certain misogynistic, patriarchal social policies in raising her daughters.