Reel Reviews | Fremont (Sundance ’23)

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

A young Afghan refugee is having trouble sleeping and connecting now that she is in a California town named Fremont.

Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) has left her county of Afghanistan and taken refuge in the United States. A former translator for the United States, she left her family and friends due to the threats levied against her as a traitor to the country. Donya works at a homemade fortune cookie factory where she has just one friend, Joanna (Hilda Schmelling) who consoles her about her loneliness. The main problem is experiencing is that she can’t sleep. Because she doesn’t have medical insurance, Donya tricks her way into seeing Dr. Anthony (Gregg Turkington) for a prescription for sleeping pills. Too bad she didn’t know that once you go to see a therapist, you have to keep going to see a therapist.

Written by Caroline Cavalli and Babak Jalali, Fremont stars Anaita Wali Zada, Hilda Schmelling, Gregg Turkington, and Jeremy Allen White. The movie is directed by Babak Jalali.

Fremont is an intense character study into the life of a person who is not just lonely but isolated. Donya, played wonderfully by first-time actress Anaita Wali Zada, is the typical picture of someone who needs help. She is surrounded by people who care about her but she has been isolated for so long that she does not know how to re-engage with people. It is evident to everyone including the audience why she is having trouble sleeping. But left to her own, she would have done nothing about it.

Herein lies the most important message of the film. There are many people who are walking around with problems. This film kindly reminds us that we need to see these people and get involved in their lives. The director, Babak Jalali, and some of the producers are also drawing attention to the plight of Afghans, those refugees here in the United States, and those still in the homeland. While political pressure can be placed upon our government, the most important thing is to recognize people who need help and give it to them.

Shot in black and white, Jalali creates a strikingly beautiful piece of cinema that communicates the reality of the message of the movie but at the same time is just so calming and enjoyable to watch. The format of the film makes the audience focus on the framing of each actor and the story that they are telling in the scene. The pacing of the movie is very deliberate, giving the director the opportunity to make the most of each and every scene.

With a run time of ninety-one minutes, Fremont is a special experience in cinema that speaks to the power of surviving, perseverance and companionship. It is delightful and intentional, taking its time to win your heart.

Grade: B+