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A silly episode in geopolitical history gets rewritten as small-scale farce in La Isla, Ahmed Boulane’s fable-like film about a 2002 standoff between Morocco and Spain over a hunk of rock near the former country’s shore. Though it played well to the crowd here, who applauded the sight of a Moroccan flag being raised over tiny Perejil Island and cheered the Everyman soldier who thought hoisting it was his duty, the picture lacks the entertainment value to carry it to other markets.
Although the actual conflict started when a dozen Moroccan soldiers set up camp on the island and awaited a response from its official owner, Spain, this version is reimagined as an inadvertent provocation. Ibrahim (Abdellah Ferkous), a low-ranking Moroccan officer nearing retirement, is assigned by his superiors to go camp on Perejil for a month or so, alone, to watch for drug smuggling and illegal immigration. He has only the barest supplies and is told his superiors will assume all is well until they hear otherwise from him — a hard-to-believe arrangement that allows the movie to cut him off completely from the outside world once his sole walkie-talkie dies.
Ibrahim rescues Mamadou (Issa N’Diaye), a Senegalese man who nearly drowns trying to row to Spain; after a couple of racially insensitive moments the film means to be funny, the two become friends. But beyond this little island, a global incident is brewing.
Spanish troops have seen Ibrahim’s flag flying over their island and, not realizing this “invasion” consists of a single chubby flunky, set immense governmental forces in motion. Cutting frequently to the halls of power in Spain, the pic watches a foreign minister who hopes to resolve this diplomatically and the generals who know This Means War. The disparities arising from the ridiculous stakes of this disagreement (the island has no commercial or strategic value) and the various misunderstandings of on-the-ground reality are the makings of a great satire, but Boulane and co-screenwriter Carlos Domenguez fail to exploit them. Forget Strangelovian brinksmanship: The closest the movie comes to getting a laugh is when Ibrahim trips over himself while climbing a small hill.
The lifeless pace of early scenes, surely intended to convey the dull isolation of our hero, continues throughout this short film. A sharper editor might have overcome directorial failings by briskly contrasting island monotony with Madrid’s fast-growing anxiety. Instead, the pic trudges forward to make an accidental hero of Ibrahim, the functionary who gives his underdog nation something to cheer.
Production company: Boulane O’Bryne Production, Maestranza Films
Cast: Abdellah Ferkous, Issa N’Diaye, Bouchra Ahrich, Rosario Pardo, Miguel Hirmoso, Hans Richter, Cuca Escribano
Director: Ahmed Boulane
Screenwriters: Ahmed Boulane, Carlos Domenguez
Producers: Ahmed Boulane, Antonio P. Perez
Executive producer: Dana Schondelmeyer
Director of photography: Giovanni Brescini
Editor: Laurent Dufreche
Composers: Philippe Gomez, Louis Mancaux
Casting director: Mabel Ordonez
Venue: Marrakech International Film Festival (Coup de Coeur)
Sales: Boulane O’Bryne Production
In Arabic, French, and Spanish
Not rated, 80 minutes
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