(director/writer: Gavin Lambert; cinematographer: Walter Lassally; editor: Vera Campbell; cast: Victoria Grayson (Rose Graham), Catherine Lacey (Selena Prouse), Lee Montague (Michael), Ahmed Ben Mahomed (Ahmed), Tayeb (Tayeb), Alan Forbes (Bancroft); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aymer Maxwell; Facets Video; 1954-UK)

“Captures the reality of North Africa in the 1950s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This low-budget black-and-white film, shot in seven weeks on location with a mostly nonprofessional cast, is the sole directing effort of Gavin Lambert. He was a noted novelist (Inside Daisy Clover) and biographer and from 1950 to 1956 was the editor of Sight & Sound magazine. Lambert lived in Tangier between the middle ’70s and late 1980s; he hung out within a colony of openly homosexual writers and artists that included: Christopher Isherwood, Tennessee Williams, and Paul Bowles. Lambert died in 2005 while living in Hollywood and still writing novels. This steamy, hypnotic and atmospheric film is influenced by Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. It’s a haunting love story of a repressed conventional white woman going native after being seduced by an exotic Morocco: its men, music and mysteries. The pace is slow, the dialogue is sparse, and the romance itself is not always convincing; but there’s a strange and enigmatic thread that runs through this passion in the desert tale that captures the reality of North Africa in the 1950s and the bleakness of being lonely in an alien place.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Prim and still virginal thirtysomething Englishwoman Rose Graham (Victoria Grayson) is hired to be a paid companion to an older Englishwoman named Selena Prouse (Catherine Lacey) in Marrakesh, Morocco. Since the recent death of her sister, who lived with her, Selena experiences a loneliness and a need to have a woman to talk to her. Selena is part of a community of Europeans and Americans who like to party and live an idle hedonistic life. The wealthy woman enjoys the company of her younger male companion Michael (Lee Montague), an olive complexioned unctuous gigolo. The lonely Rose, an outsider in Selena’s upper-crust group, befriends Ahmed (Ahmed Ben Mohammed), a tall, mysterious and taciturn Arab who acts as her guide and takes her to the souks and to the open Big Square where there are Sudanese dancers, acrobats, storytellers, and snake charmers. During a party with Selena’s friends, Rose becomes attracted to a young street musician, Tayeb (Tayeb), and arranges through Ahmed to see him secretly. She pays Tayeb for every visit, and falls in love with him even though neither speaks the same language. After this brief relationship with the handsome but bland man, Rose learns that Tayeb has disappeared (supposedly he got canned from his band because he didn’t give his old man boss kickbacks from the money he got from Rose). She then arranges with Ahmed to find him. Rose steals money from Selena and treks by bus with Ahmed to the Atlas Mountains across the Sahara, some 500 miles away, as that’s where lover boy was supposed to have gone. They continue on donkey when there are no more bus routes and end up on foot when the animals are stolen. One day Ahmed leaves Rose a hand-drawn map and disappears the moment her money runs out, and the disorientated woman is left alone, hopeless, broke and lost in a country she might never understand. It ends with her living the past five years in that same remote village, as she declares herself a dead woman (and is supposedly married to one of the local villagers). We are told that she never found her lover and is trying to forget the past. The only thing she can say about her reckless journey is that it’s “the will of God” and that she must try to accept things as easily as the Arabs do.

This gem was never recognized during its day, but a new digitally restored DVD from Facets hopefully will give it the attention it deserves.

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