Dir/scr: Karim Dridi. Fr. 2008 95 mins
An intriguing and often compelling (if sometimes meandering) feature shot with a cast of uniformly effective non-actor children, Khamsa is set in the Roma community outside Marseilles. This obviously conjures up images of Tony Gatlif (who has a music credit), but this plays it straight, telling the story of an 11-year-old boy called Marco (Cortes), son of a long-gone North African mother (who left him the Khamsa necklace) and a father (Akbarian) who has shacked up with a new, young, girlfriend and sees no problem with feeding young Marco booze and pot whenever he sees him, which is rarely.
Marco has run away from a care home, where he was placed for torching his former step-mother's trailer home, although where he is running to isn't clear. His affection for his grandmother and his half-siblings is evident, but both are fading figures in his life as he is brutally moved out of childhood and onto the streets and the company of petty thieves Coyote (Adam) and Rachitique (Laribi). Apart from his dwarf cousin Tony (Fourmann), nobody in Marco's life seems to care for him, and the boy is showing signs of emotional disturbance which don't augur well.
Khamsa is a strong social commentary from Dridi, boosted by good performances from the children, particularly Cortes, who is a standout. It achieves probably what it set out to do in changing preconceived notions of children like Marco, who live so far on the fringes of 'our' society, they almost inhabit a land of their own. Antoine Monod works wonders behind the lens, opening the trailer park out into the wide landscapes of forgotten, sunswept Marseilles.
+33 6 21 71 39 11
Raymond 'Mike' Adam
Felix 'Tony' Fourmann
Melodrama Habibi (Une Chanson Dans La Tete)
Dir. Hany Tamba. Lebanon, 2008. 94 mins
Melodrama Habibi is an insistently-whimsical feature set in Beirut; it mixes its French comic sensibility with Lebanese settings and Michel Gondry-style flights of fancy against a background of turmoil. Many will be charmed by its conceit, but Melodrama Habibi often feels slick to the point of cloying. It does, however, have some moments of freshness and Hany Tamba's debut is certainly assured.
Bruno Caprice (Chesnais) is a one-hit-wonder French crooner whose elevator-music track Quand Tu T'En Vas was a huge hit in the 70s. Now, however, he's a rundown wreck of a hotel receptionist in Paris, a boozer and a lech. In Beirut, rich matriarch Raba Hanfouche (Kassar), the wife of an instant-coffee millionaire, insists on having him flown over to perform at her birthday party. She will always remember his brave performance in Beirut during the Civil War although he cannot recall ever being there; another person who remembers the song is young beautician Nadine (Khatrib), whose father died during the same period.
A kidnapping and a shambolic performance result in Nadine being drafted to become a tour guide for Caprice. They are attracted to each other, in the way that beautiful young women are often drawn to aged bankrupt has-beens - or at least, in films. For a semi-musical, the score is particularly unmemorable.
France 3 Cinema
+ 33 1 53103399
Emmanuelle Mougne, Hany Tamba, Michel Kammoun
Be Calm And Count To Seven (Aram Bash Va TA Haft Beshmar)
Dir/prod/scr/ed Ramtin Lavafipour. Iran, 2008. 89 mins.
Shot on DigiBeta, Ramtin Lavafipour's low-budget, experimental feature is awash with memorable images of a Persian Gulf seaside village where smuggling - of goods and people - is a way of life. The film opens with a flotilla of rough-hewn speedboats bobbing on the water, waiting for plastic-wrapped packets to pop up. The race is then on: back to the beach, where masked women in black chadors silently carry the cargo at breakneck pace in an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with the local police.
Motu (Obdollahi) is one of the smugglers; his father has recently gone missing while people-smuggling, and Motu, who dives for pearls and whose hero is Ronaldinho, is left with his pregnant mother and older sister. The local ringleader, played by Hashemi, cares for Motu but is distracted by his adversaries and an annoyed wife in Tehran.
Rough-hewn but always involving, Seven is a debut from Lavafipour, who also produced, edited and wrote the screenplay.
Production company/international sales
Pishro Film Iran
+ 98 9124582977