Taking the audience to Strasbourg, France, filmmaker Mehdi Fikri exposes the harsh reality of police brutality and a family's quest for justice with his film After the Fire, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
After the Fire begins when Malika (Camélia Jordana) and her family, including her brother Driss (Sofiane Zermani) and sister Nour (Sonia Faidi), finding out that their brother Karim was arrested and died shortly after. Police claim his death was a result of a epileptic seizure, but there was never a proper investigation. The reality the family has to try to prove is that Karim was killed at the hands of police.
Malika quickly becomes the face of a lofty court battle to seek justice in her brother's death, as media interest is increasing and civilian support grows, but it certainly puts a strain on her family life with her husband and child.
Fikri has been a journalist for 10 year and has covered police brutality in the working-class suburbs surrounding Paris. But the intention was always to tells a fictional story.
"I knew that I needed fictional characters in order to ... show the dark side," Fikri told Yahoo Canada in Toronto. "Real people in this struggle are very sensitive and criminalized a lot. So I get a lot of freedom [writing] this character."
"I needed to move from the reality and to leave my press card in my past in order to feel free to do some staging. ... It's OK if I want to emphasize some points or totally forget some other points. It was artistic freedom."
Fikri's film is tense and gripping to watch, but much of it is led by the personal stories of these characters.
"The subject is [political], but the narrative structure is totally ... intimate," Fikri explained.
This is particularly true later on in the film, while Malika is battling this court case for her brother Karim, but then Driss finds himself jail. That leaves Malika to evaluate where to put her efforts, justice for Karim or getting Driss out of jail. It's an impossible decision to make.
"This is [a] tragic topic," Fikri stressed.
While Fikri's film certainly has bleak moment, the filmmaker always intended to end the movie with some level of hope for society, even under a racist and discriminatory system of justice.
"I wanted to [leave] the feeling of hope and some kind of joy," Fikri said. "I wanted to say, OK there is a death, there is the breaking of the couple and this family is a bit shattered, but ... they can heal."
"I don't want to end in a very depressing feeling, like there is no justice."