'The Sleeping Tree': Dubai Review

Courtesy of Dubai International Film Festival


Poetically inclined but ultimately incomprehensible

A Bahrain couple struggles to cope with their daughter's cerebral palsy

Concluding scenes of high poetry will not help viewers understand what The Sleeping Tree (Alshajarh Alnaemah) is driving at, and this overly ambitious first feature from Bahrain will probably circulate mainly in the Middle East. Yet director Mohammed Rashed Buali is clearly searching for an approach off the beaten track and could be someone to watch for in the future.

The acting and staccato dialogue are a large part of the problem here, though Jamaan Alrowaei grows on you as the main character, Jassim. A businessman whose gray-streaked beard makes him look much older than his wife, Noora (played with calm immobility by leading TV actress Haifaa Hussain), he does little but look depressed for most of the story. Unlike the loving Noora, he's unable to accept the disability of his bedridden 11-year-old daughter, whose incurable cerebral palsy has ruined his marriage and life in general. The first part of the film alternates between TV-style set-ups of Noora hovering over the sick girl's bed and Jassim morosely meeting with a man who may be his brother. The latter suggests he put his daughter in an institution and/or takes a mistress.

But after visiting the "Tree of Life," a touristic arbor miraculously growing in the desert, Jassim begins to dream and fantasize about a different life. The audience will struggle to follow him, though, through the awkward scripting, and will likely leave the theater with more questions than answers.

In the end, Alrowaei wins sympathy with his hobby of playing a local version of the bagpipe, which he does with a gusto unknown in his daily life. His music is authentic and trance-like, adding local color to the dream/fantasy sequences. Buali, whose short film Reclaim was part of Bahrain's winning pavilion at the 2010 Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition, has an intense feeling for the traditions of his land, and the music and dance sequences are hypnotic.

Production companies: Nooran Pictures, International Affairs Authority of Bahrain, Bahrain Development Bank, Enjaaz in association with Moirai Communications

Cast:Jamaan Alrowaei, Haifaa Hussain, Maryam Zayman, Ibrahim Khalfan, Ibrahim Al-Hsawi, Hawra Sharif
Mohammed Rashed Buali
Screenwriter: Fareed Ramadan
Producers: Mohammed  Rashed Buali, Suha Matar, Fareed Ramadan
Director of photography: Mohammed Maghraoui
Production designer: Baider Kamal
Editor: Saleh Nass
Music: Mohammed Haddad
No rating, 87 minutes