An uncompromisingly ethnic film about forbidden love across tribal lines in the African desert may not sound like a box office competitor to Star Wars, and of course it isn’t - but then maybe not everyone wants to watch Ewan McGregor waving his lightsaber.
It’s not entirely clear throughout this Algerian offering who lines up on which side and why, but the gist is plain enough: love, equality and understanding are good; intolerance, violence and oppression are bad. Focusing on one oasis settlement, writer-director Chouikh illustrates how people set up petty rivalries to discredit and dominate their neighbours.
Lovers Amin (Abdou) and Myriam (Aouffen) - he’s riff-raff, she’s not - are attacked by stick-wielding youths as they cavort in the sand. He is a marked man, she is checked for deflowerment and chained indoors while the village elders ponder how to save face because the other menfolk (poor dears) somehow feel that their own honour has been soiled. As barricades are erected in alleyways and friends become enemies, everyone awaits the arrival of the girl’s powerful uncle. When he and his camel riders appear on the scene to the melodramatic roll of drums, all hell breaks loose.
Luckily for the smitten duo, a more liberal clan exists, led by a gypsy woman (Adami) who refuses to be cowed by men, and a bloke who seems to believe he’s Noah. They help the couple to hide after Myriam bumps off her imposed new groom-to-be. Observing the whole bunch of them is a young boy who symbolises hope for a better future. As this is a film with the emphasis on timeless sentiments, we never become emotionally attached to the characters, merely outraged by some of the behaviour, but a certain mystique saves it from dullness.