‘Let Them Come’ (‘Maintenant ils peuvent venir’): TIFF Review

Courtesy of TIFF
A powerful subject matter that lacks sufficient dramatic purpose.

The dark years of the Algerian civil war are examined in Salem Brahimi's debut.

News reports today are filled with atrocities committed by ISIS as they continue to rule portions of Syria and Iraq, slaughtering locals and perpetuating a wave of terror. As often is the case, their acts are not without precedent: Throughout the 1990’s, what’s known as the “black decade” in Algeria saw a nationwide civil war between the government and Islamist fighters that left 200,000 victims, with the Jihadi carrying out a series of massacres that wiped out entire villages nearby the capital of Algiers.

Exploring this period through the prism of a man trying to reconcile family and country as they’re torn apart by events beyond his control, the Franco-Algerian feature Let Them Come (Maintenant ils peuvent venir) offers up a solemn firsthand account of an all-too familiar occurrence, revealing the personal casualties of deep-seated religious conflict. Produced by the Costa-Gavras shingle KG Productions, and directed by first-timer Salem Brahimi, the film doesn’t quite have the dramatic impact one would expect from such material, even if an extremely dark conclusion leaves one haunted afterwards. A premiere in Toronto’s World Cinema section should spark continued fest play and scattered theatrical dates across Europe.

Based on the 2002 novel by Arezki Mellal (who also co-wrote the screenplay), the story begins in the late 1980’s, when state employee Nouredine (Amazigh Kateb) watches his girlfriend head back to France as he decides to stay and work in Algiers. “I have nothing to write in Paris,” claims the stubborn and stoical author, who spends his free time jotting things down in a notebook, though he’s yet to publish anything.

See more The Scene at TIFF 2015 (Photos)

Back at the printing press where he works, Nouredine watches as his factory and city are gradually taken over by Islamists who block traffic during Friday prayer services, while attacking “infidels” who do not adhere to their strict beliefs. When the writer reconnects with a childhood friend, Yasmina (Rachida Brakni), and the two decide to get married, they’re forced to abide by Muslim laws that neither of them believes in, with Yasmina now required to wear a headscarf in public.

Such details are just the tip of the iceberg as skirmishes soon break out throughout the country, with militants – under the bloody leadership of Antar Zouabri – wiping out towns in surrounding regions. Despite the fact that his neighborhood is all but abandoned and his family (he and Yasmina now have a daughter) suffer from the constant state of unrest, Nouredine refuses to quit his homeland. But his decision will wind up having a devastating impact on both himself and his loved ones.

There’s a lot of ground to cover here, although Brahimi – who worked on Claire Denis’s Beau Travail and directed a few documentaries – keeps the action extremely pared-down, probably for budget reasons but also to focus on his main character’s individual plight. Yet Nouredine remains much too opaque throughout the movie, saying as little to the us as he does to those around him, with Kateb keeping his cards awfully close in a highly subdued performance: Beyond the constant look of indignation on his face, he doesn't give the audience much to work with.

More intriguing are the filmmaker's depictions of a country that was ravaged by years of sectarian struggle, with very little choice left for non-Muslim extremists but to flee or else take up arms in the hills (as seen in one short but memorable sequence). While Nouredine continues to stand his ground, those around him are either killed or exiled. By the end of the movie, his is the only family left on a block where every window is barred, and where distant gunshots are the only signs of life.

Production companies: KG Productions, AARC, Battam Films
Cast: Amazigh Kateb, Rachida Brakni
Director: Salem Brahim
Screenwriters: Salem Brahimi, Arezki Mellal, based on the book “Maintenant ils peuvent venir” by Arezki Mellal
Producers: Michele Ray Gavras, Salem Brahimi
Director of photography: Leonidas Arvanitis
Production designers: Malek Ouaguennouni, Serge Borgel
Editor: Yourgos Lamprinos
Composer: Eric Neveux
International sales: KG Productions

No rating, 95 minutes

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