Dir: Danielle Arbid. Fr. 2007. 97 mins.
Somewhere, buried deep down this pseudo-road movie that moves round in circles, there is a burning issue begging to be explored. All the more pity that Danielle Arbid never actually comes to grips with it, though it is pretty obvious the relations between the two protagonists, one French (Melvil Poupaud) the other Lebanese (Alexander Siddig), are supposed to reflect in some manner the unbearable difficulty of the relations between the West and the Middle East.
Failing to actually flesh out her one-dimensional characters - the French man chases women and the Lebanese runs away from himself - she instead drags them through repetitious situations that seem unlikely audiences will be willing to follow through to an inconclusive the bitter end which could have been introduced much earlier.
A first sequence introduces Fouad (Siddig) running away from something down the embattled streets of Beirut. In the next, he is looking for trouble in a North Syria plantation, in the third he feels up a veiled woman in a car and follows her all the way to the toilets, at the border separating Syria from Jordan. This is where the second character, Thomas Kore (Poupaud), a photographer of sorts, walks in, holding a camera and taking pictures of the man and woman as they passionately embrace. The police intervene, the two men are allowed to cross into Jordan, the woman disintegrates into thin air and the picture is ready to begin.
Thomas offers the mysterious Fouad a lift to Amman, they rent a hotel room and go to town. Thomas likes women, prostitutes or not, and has plenty in the course of the film. But he will not let go of Fouad, obsessed as he is by this silent man's secret. Since, after lots of twisting and turning, there does not seem to be any solution in sight, the script takes a leap of faith and unveils a few secret files for Thomas to rummage in. The truth is revealed but it is still not over, for not only has there to be a victim here, he also has to be inflicted as offensive a punishment as he can bear.
At face value, there is nothing of interest in this tale. As a metaphor, Thomas is the depraved Westerner sticking his nose in all the wrong places, lighting up all the dark corners (which he does with his camera) but finally understanding and feeling nothing because he is dead inside. For him, an experience does not exist unless it is photographed, women are objects to be used and discarded, and a mystery is not solved unless it is defiled. Fouad could qualify as the proud and noble savage, pursued by a crime he did not commit. But since there is no additional light shed on the characters, the metaphor is not taken any further.
Thomas's arrogance and Fouad's stubborn silence are equally irritating. Poupaud's performance does nothing to alleviate the unpleasantness of his part, while Siddig looks as if he could have used more guidance. Early suggestions of a documentary style are dispelled in favour of a non-descript approach and director Arbid seems at a loss to get more out her own story.
Distribution (at home)
Marin & Nathanael Karmitz
Darina Al Joundi