The Repentant (El Taaib): Cannes Review

Directors Fortnight El Taaib Still - H 2012

Directors Fortnight El Taaib Still - H 2012

A young Algerian terrorist tries to reform in Merzak Allouache’s not entirely convincing drama.

Algeria’s troubled recent history makes Merzak Allouache’s story of a young Islamic terrorist of interest to anyone who follows the region.

CANNES - Algeria’s troubled recent history has pulled the curtain down on films with anything political to discuss, so a new film by veteran director Merzak Allouache (Bab El Oued City) is of interest to anyone who follows the region.

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The Repentant, a tale about a young Islamic terrorist who takes advantage of a national amnesty to come down from the mountains and return to civil society, promises a lot but lacks conviction, feeling like a case study with a very arbitrary ending. Given the director’s reputation and the paucity of info from Algeria, it should find mainly festival engagements, with some theatrical chances in Europe and the Mediterranean area.

Allouache’s script spends much energy putting young Jihadist Rashid (Nabil Asli) in just the right political light; even so, foreign audiences are likely to miss the point. He is presented stumbling down a snowy mountain at break-neck speed, wrapped in a blue turban and long robe, until he reaches the humble stone village of his aged parents. They greet him joyfully, but a neighbor whose family has been wiped out by his terrorist group threatens to kill him. Rashid claims he never killed anyone.

A sympathetic but wary police captain - who pointedly does not torture him under interrogation, as people predict, so score one for the national forces - finds him a job and a place to stay in a cafè. One day he meets a grim young pharmacist (Khaled Benaissi) separated from his broodingly hostile wife (Adila Bendimered) and a plan springs to his mind. He will extort money from them by revealing a secret of the mountains.

Asli’s wide eyes and flexible face have a Buston Keaton-like mobility that makes it extremely hard not to be on his side whatever he does, while the middle-class victims of terrorism are bossy, egocentric and unpleasant, destroying any balance or ambiguity the film is probably trying to convey. In the end, the dramatic story loses its promised insiders’ perspective and much power in the process.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 19, 2012
Production companies: Baya Films, JBA Production, TV5 Monde
Cast: Nabil Asli, Adila Bendimered, Khaled Benaissa
Director: Merzak Allouache
Screenwriter: Merzak Allouache
Producers: Yacine Djadi, Marianne Dumoulin, Jacques Bidou
Director of photography: Mohamed Tayeb Laggoune
Editor: Sylvie Gadmer
Sales Agent: Doc & Film International
No rating, 87 minutes.