‘The Apaches’ (‘Des Apaches’): Film Review

The Apaches Still - H 2015
Ad Vitam

The Apaches Still - H 2015

A low-key dramatic thriller that’s too elliptical to work

Cannes almunus Nassim Amaouche directs and stars in his second feature

After paying homage to American westerns in his 2009 Cannes Critics’ Week debut, Adieu Gary, Franco-Algerian filmmaker Nassim Amaouche’s offers up another genre-inflected family drama with his follow-up feature, The Apaches (Des Apaches). Yet despite a title that promises shootouts, vendettas and plenty of outlaw behavior, this underwhelming, rather muddled sophomore effort never really gets off the ground, even if it benefits from strong visuals and a generally compelling cast. A lack of exposure on the fest circuit will keep the natives restless outside Francophonia.

Set in the gritty neighborhoods of northern Paris, the story (written by Amaouche and Guillaume Breaud (Bird People)) toes the line between film noir, fantasy and art house realism, yet fails to decide which one of them it wants to be. Instead, Amaouche – who plays the lead character – tries tackling all the genres at once, failing to generate enough suspense in a languishing intrigue that jumps around in time without warning and proves too enigmatic to follow.

That said, the film’s opening sequence offers up a clever Casino-style introduction to Paris’s Kabyle community, where money from villages in Algeria is invested in local bars and cafés, the proceeds then illegally transported back to the homeland. One of the bars is owned by the absentee father (Djemel Barek) of 30-something loner, Samir (Amaouche), who spends his time reminiscing about his childhood, especially after the death of his lovely French mother, Jeanne (Laetitia Casta).

Samir’s dad wants to sell his café and bank the proceeds – worth roughly €1.5 million – but in order to close the deal he has to reconnect with his estranged son, using a longtime confidante (Andre Dussollier) to do so. Meanwhile, memories from Samir’s past come back to haunt him during several extended flashbacks, and things start getting weird when he begins seeing a woman who looks exactly like Jeanne – and who’s also played by model-turned-actress Casta. Talk about an Oedipus complex.

Where Amaouche is going with all this is never quite clear. At times his film treads into mob movie territory, and the depiction of the close-knit Kabyle clans, whose scores are settled during smoky backroom sit-downs à la The Sopranos, feels entirely authentic. But then the story switches gears as we follow Samir down memory lane, and even if some of the scenes – including one where, as a 12-year-old, he watches his mother come home from a night of streetwalking – have a wistful lure to them, they never build into a cohesive enough narrative and wind up hampering the overall tension.

Working with ace DP Celine Bozon (Tip Top), Amaouche paints a portrait of Paris’s immigrant underworld that’s bathed in shadow and layers of gray, while the flashback sequences use warm colors to suggest Samir’s lost innocence. Musical choices, including Algerian ballads from the 60’s and 70’s, create a nostalgic background where the past is forever creeping into the present. Performances are solid across the board, although the film ultimately fails to give its characters their due.

Production companies: Ad Vitam Production, France 3 Cinema
Cast: Nassim Amaouche, Andre Dussollier, Laetita Casta, Djemel Barek
Director: Nassim Amaouche
Screenwriters: Nassim Amaouche, Guillaume Breaud
Producer: Alexandra Henochsberg
Director of photography: Celine Bozon
Production designer: Florian Sanson
Costume designer: Monic Parelle
Editor: Julien Lacheray
Casting directors: Sarah Teper, Christelle Barras, Leila Fournier
International sales: Films Distribution-

No rating, 97 minutes