Dir: Tariq Teguia. Algeria-France. 2008. 145mins.
For anyone with the strength to sit through the whole 145 minutes of this sadistically-paced cinematic reflection on the state of contemporary Algeria, there are a few small compensations: some moments of visual poetry, particularly in the final desert scenes, and a sense of disorientation and uncertainty that many Algerians are feeling in the uneasy peace that has followed the end of the 1992-2002 civil war.
But this is not enough to make up for the utter lack of pacing and the fact that the main character is a morally and spiritually bereft man who seemingly has no desires or pleasures in life. Like the director’s first feature, 2006’s Rome Rather Than You, this is only for the most hardcore cineastes and theatrical distribution - outside, perhaps, of one or two arthouse outlets in Paris and Algiers - looks remote.
Inland’s final (and finest) hour sees its two main characters wandering through the desert getting close to some truth about life and death - or maybe they’re just lost. But Teguia first makes us sit through a prologue that itself lasts over an hour, and which despite a certain formal beauty, offers next to nothing for the audience to hook into. We follow taciturn surveyor and topographer Malek (Abdelkader Affak) as he takes on a job in a remote region of Western Algeria that until recently was a fundamentalist stronghold.
Malek drifts into the job just as he drifts out of marriage with his understandably frustrated wife, and he’s soon (but not soon enough) living in container-accomodation in the remote semi-desert highlands, standing up to local police who hassle him for his papers and work permits, and befriending a local farmer who has returned to his fields now that the terrorist threat has passed. Finally, 75 minutes later, something significant: Malek finds a black African woman (Ines Rose Djakou) hiding out in his quarters, a stray from a group of Morocco-bound illegal immigrants.
Communicating in sparse and rudimentary English, the two embark on a desert journey, first towards Morocco, then, when the woman decides she’s had enough, back south, towards Algeria’s southern border. Interspersed with the main ‘action’ is a series of outtakes from a discussion between a group of politically-engaged urban Algerians on the role of the intellectual.
Nacer Madjkane’s mix of jerky handheld and carefully-framed desert photography comes into its own in the final sequences, conveying the other-wordly feel of these vast expanses without resorting to shimmering mirage cliches. And a soundtrack that mixes Sonic Youth, Nigerian Afrobeat king Fela Kuti and Algerian Rai music seems to dramatise the different forces that are tugging at modern Algeria - pan-Africanism, hip Western attitudes, respect for tradition. By its lyrical finale, Inland has built to some sort of poetry; only the diehards will be left in the theatre by then to appreciate it.
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Ines Rose Djakou