CANNES DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT 2012: El Taaib (Le Repenti/The Repentant) (Merzak Alluache)

for desistfilm: Sarah Nichols

In thinking over El Taaib (Le Repenti/The Repentant), I find myself coming back, again and again, to the desaturated colors of the Algerian landscape in winter: I’ve always thought of its colors as “hot”: a palette of orange, red, brown. These colors are in the frame, to be sure. But they fight against colder blues and the dingy grey of the city; they battle against the finality and what cannot be known in black. I focus so intently on the colors of the mise-en-scene because in this story of a young man who has been granted amnesty after being a part of a terrorist cell, they seem to directly correspond with the palpable alienation that is the film’s beating heart.

Rachid(Nabi Asli), is welcomed back to his mountain village by his parents, but almost immeadiately shunned by their neighbors, and once he turns himself into the police and gives up his weapon, it’s intimated that the police want him to begin informing for them. Any friendship that he might have hoped for with his new boss is immediately crushed when the man tells him not to address him as “brother.” The world of El Taaib is claustrophobic and chill; almost humorless, and in another story that unfolds, all of the air seems to have been sucked out of the story: it becomes grimly deterministic. Rachid meets a local pharmacist (Khaled  Ben aissi) whose life is just as circumscribed as Rachid’s own: his daughter has died, and he is estranged from his wife (Adil Bendimered). He drinks too much while Japanese television shows drone on in the background; when he does persuade his wife to visit, there’s no connection between them.

I wanted more than the 87 minutes of this film allowed.  It seemed more interested in its own solemnity than in exploring authentic stories of lives that had been hollowed out by violence, either through being a member of a terrorist cell, or through having a member die at the hands of one. Perhaps the most interesting sounds came at the end of the film, in a staccato rhythm: a mother’s harsh weeping, gunfire,  and a voice saying “God is great!”

Director: Merzak Alluache
Screenwriter: Merzak Alluache
Cinematographer: Mohamed Tayeb Laggoune
Cast: Nabil Asli, Adil Bendimered, Khaled Benaissa
Algeria, France
87 min
2012
Europa Cinema Award – Directors’ Fortnight

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