The Miscreants: Karlovy Vary Film Review

Great premise, disappointing execution in this tale of terrorism in Morocco.

Director-screenwriter Mohcine Besri's Moroccan tale of actors kidnapped by terrorists endeavors to illuminate the conflict between the fanatic and the free spirit.

Karlovy Vary—The battle between fundamentalists and artists receives an intriguing treatment in a Moroccan movie, The Miscreants, which was showcased in Karlovy Vary. The strength of writer-director Mohcine Besri’s movie is that it depicts a part of the world we rarely see while tackling very timely themes.  The weakness is that it’s dramatically inert and therefore less involving than it should be. The film has little chance of finding an audience beyond the festival circuit, and even there, its appeal is limited.

A group of five up-and-coming actors are traveling to a performance out of town when they are flagged down by three men who appear to need help. The men are terrorists, and they kidnap the actors and take them to a secluded retreat to await further instructions from the sheik who is their leader. The kidnapping seems to be random; the terrorists target these particular people simply because actors epitomize the secularity and nonconformity that Islamic fundamentalists despise.  But when they reach their isolated hideaway, the kidnappers cannot get in touch with their leader.  As the days pass, the terrorists and the artists get to know each other a little better, and preconceptions begin to dissolve.

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The story is a strong one, and it has the potential to illuminate conflicts between fanatics and free spirits in many parts of the world. But the film ultimately falls short. The three terrorists are well characterized. One of them is completely intolerant, whereas the youngest of the three finds himself attracted to the independence of the actors. The leader of the group tries to mediate between these two poles of rigidity and relaxation. But the five actors are not so sharply delineated. They are fairly indistinguishable, and as a result of this flat writing, we never get deeply invested in their fate.

Another problem with the film is the tight budget. It unfolds more like a play than a movie, and although the film inevitably builds some suspense as the terrorists have to decide whether to free or kill their hostages, it could have been a lot more gripping. Despite the limitations of the budget, cinematographer Pascal Montjovent does provide some evocative shots of the Moroccan countryside. Performances are solid, especially by the three actors—Mustapha El Houari, Omar Lofti, and Aissam Bouali—who play the terrorists. The ending of the film is slightly ambiguous, but at least it leaves us thinking about a growing problem all over the world.

Venue:  Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Production:  Akka Films & Tamawayt Productions.

Cast:  Jamila El Haouini, Maria Lalouaz, Amine Ennaji, Abdenbi El Beniwi, Rabii Benjhaile, Omar Lotfi, Aissam Bouali, Mustapha El Houari.

Director-screenwriter-producer:  Mohcine Besri.

Executive producer:  Joelle Rubli.

Director of photography:  Pascal Montjovent.

Music:  Philippe Heritier.

Editor:  Naima Bachiri.

No rating, 88 minutes.