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film review

Dakota Fanning plays Lilly, a devout Muslim woman living in a small Ethiopian village.Courtesy of eOne

  • Sweetness in the Belly
  • Directed by Zeresenay Mehari
  • Written by Laura Phillips, based on the novel by Camilla Gibb
  • Starring Dakota Fanning and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
  • Classification PG; 110 minutes

Rating:

2.5 out of 4 stars


Wunmi Mosaku, left, plays Amina, a single mother of two and a survivor of brutal sexual violence.Courtesy of eOne

Adapted from Camilla Gibb’s bestselling novel, the romantic refugee drama Sweetness in the Belly is so reminiscent of TIFF ’15-lauded Brooklyn that Saoirse Ronan was originally supposed to play the lead. Instead, Dakota Fanning stars as Lilly, a devout Muslim woman living in a small Ethiopian village during the final years of Haile Selassie’s reign after being abandoned by her parents and raised by a Sufi master.

As a revolution begins, she’s forced to move to London, where her privileged status as a white Ethiopian refugee grants her a free council flat and a new job working as a nurse. The altruistic Lilly soon takes in a fellow female refugee, Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), though the former is haunted by memories of a past tragic love affair.

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This is a well-crafted, Bechdel-passing film that prioritizes an intersectional female friendship, yet Lilly remains nothing but our Trojan horse into the 1980s Ethiopian refugee crisis. Fanning acquits herself, but Amina’s story as a single mother of two and a survivor of brutal sexual violence is the far more necessary story to tell. A main romantic subplot is slighter still.

Sweetness in the Belly is available digitally on-demand starting July 28

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