Trouble Sleeping

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Edinburgh International Film Festival

EDINBURGH -- As an example of issue-driven community film-making, "Trouble Sleeping," an ensemble drama "based on the experiences of members of Edinburgh's refugee community," is a respectable effort that almost transcends tight budgetary limitations. Intentions are admirable, and there's much to like about the way we're taken into the tough daily lives of asylum-seekers in Scotland's picturesque capital. But in their keenness to do justice to a wide spectrum of cultures and topics, the filmmakers bite off more than they can comfortably chew. This results in a choppy, slightly unfocused multi-strander.

Festivals specializing in human-rights issues should take note. Otherwise, the picture is too uneven and technically rough-edged to gain much access.

The screenwriters should perhaps have concentrated on the closest thing "Trouble Sleeping" (an odd title, by the way) has got to a protagonist: thirtysomething social-worker Halla (Alia Alzougbi). Dispensing advice at a refugee-center, she meets many members of the city's culturally-diverse though mainly Muslim asylum-seeker community. Several obtain significant screen time, most engagingly Kamal (Fouad Cherif), a happy-go-lucky Algerian who becomes the ever-so-Italian 'Nico' when working as a trattoria waiter. The main drama, however, revolves around Halla and how she copes with a particularly awful episode from her past - a secret to which new-in-town Palestinian weightlifter/soldier Ahmad (Hassan Naama) happens to be privy.


Unsurprisingly, given the project's nature, performances are wildly variable, with professionals like Alzougbi, Nabil Shaban and Gary Lewis generally faring better than their enthusiastic non-pro counterparts. Camerawork (lowish-end DV) and direction are passably functional, in keeping with a screenplay that baldly spells out its themes and in the latter stages veers uncomfortably close to melodrama.

Jim Sutherland's eclectic score is intrusive and near-incessant, almost drowning out dialogue in one scene. It's surely no coincidence that the most powerful sequence, in which Halla's torment is finally explained, is one of few instances where music is dispensed with and Alzougbi is given space to really let rip.

Production companies: Makar Productions & Theatre Workshop. Cast: Hassan Naama, Alia Alzougbi, Waseem Uboaklain, Okan Yahsi, Fouad Cherif. Director: Robert Rae. Screenwriters: Robert Rae, Ghazi Hussein, James McSharry, Roxana Pope, Saleyha Ashan, Lucy Kaya. Producer: Eddie Dick. Executive Producers: Leslie Finlay, Ewan Angus. Director of Photography: Ian Dodds. Production Designer: Laurel Wear. Music: Jim Sutherland. Costume Designer: Laurel Wear. Editor: Tina Hetherington. Sales Agent: Makar Productions, Edinburgh. No rating, 102 minutes.
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