There are seemingly two movies going on in Dorottya Zurbó’s Easy Lessons. In one, which comprises the majority of what we see on screen, we follow 17-year old Kafia, a Somali teenager who fled to Hungary two years prior to escape a forced child marriage, as she enthusiastically goes about her daily routines and embraces the new life that Europe has provided for her. In the other, which we’re privy to through the hushed voice-over of the subject, Kafia’s underlying doubts and anxiety about shedding her entire childhood history nervously come through.
Easy Lessons may not be full of much conventional drama but the quiet tension between these two storytelling modes lends the film an urgency that can often be gripping. Residing in a state children’s home in Budapest, it’s remarkable how naturally Kafia has adapted to her new lifestyle, even holding down a part-time job and training to be a model (she’s been told she could be like Iman) while still finding the time to prepare for her final exams and plan for life beyond the children’s home.
There are still some struggles, however, with her teachers concerned about certain aspects of her classroom learning and the heavy decision to convert from Islam to Christianity, a choice that she initially seems to handle with ease but has deeper ramifications than anyone around her could fully understand.
Kafia is a dynamic screen presence, anchoring her slice-of-life portrait with a calm gravitas that masks a mind racing with a million thoughts. She gives the film a quiet power that sneaks up on you, culminating in a cathartic and revealing sequence that really makes your heart ache for any child left to fend for themselves in a strange new environment.