Four Daughters review: Riveting Oscar-nominated documentary deconstructs a global news story

A Tunisian matriarch and her four daughters – two of them played by actors – delve into their troubled past

Four Daughters
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Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
Cert: None
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Hend Sabri, Olfa Hamrouni, Eya Chikhaoui, Tayssir Chikhaoui, Nour Karoui, Ichraq Matar, Majd Mastoura.
Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins

In 2017, Casting JonBenet, Kitty Green’s investigative documentary about the death, in 1996, of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey, brought together 200 or so Colorado locals hoping to play members of the Ramsey family, local law-enforcement officers or other people of interest. The film became a repository for the theories and fears of a community defined by a historical murder.

Kaouther Ben Hania’s riveting Oscar-nominated documentary goes even further in its deconstruction of a global news story. Olfa Hamrouni, a Tunisian matriarch, and her four daughters are unexpectedly giddy as they delve into their troubled past: “I feel like Rose in the film Titanic,” says the mother.

The family, who could pass for Arabic cousins of the Jenner-Kardashian clan, are not as they appear. Two of the sisters, Ghofran and Rahma, are played by actors. In 2015 these absent siblings left to become wives and fighters with Islamic State. Dramatic reconstructions of a dark family history, during which Olfa is also played by an actor, Hend Sabri, allow for free exchanges and uncomfortable truths. Eya and Tayssir play themselves.

Olfa’s recollections of her violent wedding night – she broke her husband’s nose and used his blood as evidence of lost virginity for the crowd waiting beyond the bedroom door – set the stage for a dysfunctional marriage. “A father for me is a man who contributes to your birth through sexual intercourse,” says the youngest of the four daughters produced by that union. Her mother’s second partner, a drug-addicted murderer recently released from prison, adds to the family’s misfortunes. During one unsettling confrontation, the actor who plays all the male roles has to leave the set.


There are dark hints of sexual abuse and overt re-enactments of maternal violence. Ghofran’s flirtations with heavy metal and hair dye are eclipsed by Islamic interests after the presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “Now everyone is wearing ripped jeans,” explains Eya. “Back then it was the niqab.” It’s a fashion that has tragic and continuing implications. The final scenes, even for those familiar with the real-world outcome, are haunting.

Four Daughters is on limited release from Friday, March 1st

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic