Dir: Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche. France-Algeria. 2008. 93mins.

Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche has addressed the schizoid nature of the clash of French and Algerian cultures before, most notably in the lovely Bled Number One, set in a small Algerian village. In Adhen, traditional religion comes up against contemporary capital in a factory that makes red pallets and repairs trucks in a depressing industrial zone just outsideParis. There is so little structural tension in the film, however, that one might characterise its tempo as dramatic slack. The subject might have made for a thoughtful documentary, but as fiction Adhen is an exercise in ennui. Moving beyond a limited Gallic audience seems an almost impossible challenge.

Ameur-Zaimeche always acts in his own films, and here he plays factory owner, Mao, who builds a mosque for his workers, emphasising the link between labour and devotion to Allah. The men argue over who should be imam, but in terms of any significant narrative disruption, their debate is but a blip. Only in the final section of the film, after Mao announces that he is closing the business on account of financial losses, does the plot pick up some steam. The spiritually-oriented labourers, threatened with loss of jobs, decide to organise and become uncharacteristically violent. ‘They’ll let us build mosques but they won’t let us unionise,’ says a mechanic. A nice touch here is the revelation of a split between sub-Saharan Africans, so grateful for employment that they refuse to strike, and the activist Maghreb Arabs, more inclined to resist what they consider exploitation.

The director attempts to add some spice to the story line with a couple of shocking scenes that are more disgusting than effective. One involves the botched self-circumcision of a naﶥ imam wannabe; the other is a prolonged sequence about a trapped rodent. Both feel tacked on, as if Ameur-Zaimeche himself felt the film was too boring.

The film-maker does have a good eye: the various ways in which the pallets are stacked make for some interesting geometric compositions, and the ultimate, nocturnal scene is stunning. He also has a good ear: Ambient sounds, such as the drone of passing planes, give much-needed texture to the enterprise.

The title is the name of a character with a beautiful voice who chants in the factory’s mosque. Maquis is a scrub of Mediterranean shrubs, supposedly used on occasion for hiding.

Production companies
Sarrazink Productions

International sales
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Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche

Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche
Louise Thermes

Irina Lubtchansky

Production design
Francois Musquet

Nicolas Bancilhon

Sylvain Rifflet

Abel Jafri
Christian Milia-Darmezin
Sylvain Roume
Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche
Salim Ameur-Zaimeche