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Review: A Tunisian refugee makes a place for herself in France in well-crafted drama ‘Foreign Body’

Salim Kechiouche, left, and Hiam Abbass in the movie "Foreign Body."
(ArtMattan Productions)

Politics and sensuality make for intriguing bedfellows in “Foreign Body,” Raja Amari’s accomplished survival tale about an undocumented young Tunisian woman finding her identity in France.

Having fled her homeland in the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution, Samia (Sarra Hannachi) arrives in Lyon, where Imed (Salim Kechiouche), a longtime friend of her jailed radical Islamist brother, helps her blend into the multi-ethnic tapestry.

But the ever-perceptive Samia proves to be a resourceful self-starter, in short order finding employment with the elegant, recently-widowed Madame Berteau (the exquisite Hiam Abbass), who requires help going through her husband’s belongings.

Despite their initial mutual distrust, the two women proceed to forge a tender, nurturing bond — one that soon turns more triangular in nature when the over-protective Imed becomes involved in the relationship.

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While the plight of immigrants has been extensively documented on screen, filmmaker Amari, with her skillful fourth feature, juxtaposes Samia’s experience against a moody journey of self-discovery accentuated by cinematographer Aurélien Devaux’s surreal images (particularly the haunting opening shipwreck sequence) and an unsettling Nicolas Becker score.

It’s a trip that’s very capably undertaken by beguiling newcomer Hannachi, who expertly navigates the many surprising nuances in her truly complex character.

Samia may be a stranger in a strange land but as “Foreign Body” so evocatively points out, she’s not exactly the innocent abroad.

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‘Foreign Body’

In French and Tunisian with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles

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