The Matchmaker

The Matchmaker (Review) – Portrait of a British jihadist


The Matchmaker is showing at From Venice to London Film Festival on Saturday, 4th February, 6pm at Curzon Soho.

The Matchmaker of Benedetta Argentieri’s competition entry at Venice is Tooba Gondal. Born in Paris to Pakistani parents before moving to London, as a young woman, she became a prolific online propagandist for Islamic State. She subsequently left the UK in 2015 to join IS in occupied Syria. The film consists largely of interviews conducted with Gondal in 2019 at a detention camp in north-east Syria, where she was being held along with other female ISIS members and their young children.

The film’s introductory sequence establishes that Argentieri began filming in Syria without a specific subject in mind, but it soon becomes apparent that she chose to focus on Gondal for the myriad of contradictions she embodied. At times, she comes across as more a teenager just out of school than a mother of three whose face betrays a lifetime’s worth of fatigue. But when Gondal laughs awkwardly when questioned about past statements, she’s not wincing over a few questionable tweets after a heavy night at the student union. Gondal taunted British authorities for failing to apprehend her as she fled the country. She also mocked the victims of Islamic State’s attack on Paris, saying that it would have been “beautiful” to have seen “the hostages being slaughtered…with [her] own eyes.” (Simon Cottee Vice – 4th April 2019)

Argentieri’s restraint in her direction is commendable. Although she contextualises Gondal’s account of her actions with her filming outside of the interviews, she resists bringing in any moralising speculation about what kind of person would do what Gondal has done and why. That said, Argentieri, herself could have perhaps stood to have probed a little harder as an interviewer. She asks Gondal about some of her tweets but doesn’t press further when Gondal has little more to say than that she agrees they were “extreme”. In one instance, she even flat-out denies that she was the one posing with a Kalashnikov in a photo she had previously posted to her Twitter feed. It’s as though she’s been called into the headteacher’s office without enough time to come up with a more convincing lie.

It’s unrealistic to expect people who participate in real-life acts of terror to be as compelling and articulate as Shakespearian villains. This will neither be the first nor the last film to reveal that evil when encountered in real life, is what happens when the unthinkable becomes banal. Gondal herself demonstrates this in her sickeningly blasé description of what she claims was her only encounter with one of the thousands of Yazidi women and girls captured and enslaved by IS. The lasting impression is not one of Gondal but of the pain and suffering that she and others like her enabled. What was it all even for?


  • The Matchmaker


Argentieri keeps a steady hand on the project, but the film’s lasting impression is not one of its subject, but of the pointlessness of the suffering she helped to enable.

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