Dir. Majid Al Ansari. UAE/Jordan, 2015, 95 mins.

Rattle The Cage (Zinzana)

Set entirely inside an unidentified, claustrophobic prison cell in 1987, the UAE’s Zinzana (Rattle The Cage) is a cat-and-mouse drama with potential appeal for local audiences when it opens in Middle Eastern territories this week, although its restricted visual scope and broad-stroke performances could limit international prospects.

Al Ansari does well to keep Zinzana hitting its beats through a script which initially holds out promise of mysteries to come

Produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi and featuring the head of the Abu Dhabi film festival Ali Al Jabri in a cameo, this directorial debut of young Majid Al Ansari is one of the opening films at the Dubai International Film Festival.

Al Ansari takes on a familiar, almost stage-bound script by Ruckus and Lane Skye and colours it in with a larger-than-life central performance by Ali Suliman, aiming for a Middle-Eastern-Western in an almost mythical yarn. Set in one room throughout, Zinzana also stars fellow Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri as Talal Mohammad, a man who wakes up to find himself behind bars “somewhere in Arabia” in the 1980s (a calendar points to 1987, although this has little effect on what is about to transpire).

The local sheriff taunts him: “You like assaulting strangers?” He makes a single phone call to his estranged wife Wafa. His victim (Al Jabri) is bailed out. The sheriff sends a deputy out to find his missing wallet and ID card.

So far, so intriguing, but things take a turn for the sinister when “Deputy Dbaan” (Suliman) enters the room and promptly dispatches the sheriff by ramming a letter-opener between his ears. Further facts begin to emerge: Talal is a former alcoholic, and the cartoonishly-evil Dbaan (he dances) has an agenda.  Soon Dbaan is forced to strike a bargain in order to keep Wafa, his son Shehab, and increasing numbers of prison staff safe from Dbaan’s wrath.

Setting himself the goal of playing this feature out within such a restricted setting that it’s akin to a stage play, Al Ansari does well to keep Zinzana hitting its beats through a script which initially holds out promise of mysteries to come but ultimately fails to deliver. Such single-set limitation puts far too much in the hands of the actors, and the performances are too broad for appeal outside Zinzana’s home territories. Technical credits are sufficient for the task at hand, with the odd interesting visual flourish.

Production company: Image Nation Entertainment

International sales: IM Global, Cinetic Media

Producer: Rami Yasin

Screenplay: Ruckus Skye, Lane Skye

Cinematographer: Colin Leveque

Editor:  Shahnaz Dulaimy

Production designer: Benedikt Lange

Music : Trevor Gureckis

Main cast:  Ali Al Jabri, Saleh Bakri, Ali Suliman, Yasa, Ahd Kamel, Abdullah Bou Abed, Mansoor Al Feeli,