(director/writer: Mohamed Ben Attia; cinematographer: Frederic Noirhomme; editor: Lenka Fillnerova; music: Olivier MaHelmi Dridirguerit; cast: Majd Mastoura (Rafik), Walid Bouchhioua (Yassine), Samer Bisharat (nameless young shepherd), Helmi Dridi (Wejdi), Wissem Belgharak (Oussama), Selma Zghidi (Najwa); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dora Bouchoucha, Linabena Chaabane Menzli; Nomadis Images; 2023-Tunisia, Belgium, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar-in Arabic, with English subtitles)


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The low-budget indie is whack! Shepherds talk to dogs in the offbeat pic directed and written by the Tunisian Mohamed Ben Attia (“Dear Son”/”Hedi”), whose third film is dull, confusing and weird.

Rafik (Majd Mastoura) is a regular sort of Tunisian guy but with mental health issues, who without warning one day sabotages his workplace. This criminal act gets him a four-year prison sentence. After serving his sentence, Rafik on his release kidnaps his estranged impressionable grade-school son (Walid Bouchhioua) from his former wife and takes him to the mountains. When the police pick up his trail, he forces his way into a house in a small village. When the police arrive, he tells everyone he can fly (and does so without taking LSD, verifying he must be crazy).

It’s a story about a delusional father-son reconciliation, told in the form of a hostage thriller. It might be the hope that this incoherent story relates as a metaphor somehow to Tunisia’s current reality (whatever that is, since it’s not made clear in the film).
It’s also never made clear who Rafil is, and that the home invasion situation might be a search for freedom (which seems to be the filmmaker’s intention). Without telling us any needed details to assess the story, the ambiguous fantasy film makes little sense and its insistence that it wants to be a meditation on Arab identity never comes off as being real in that it takes place in a backward region where art is not valued by the masses.

At least I liked looking at the mountains, which is the only thing I got from this dud that seemed to make sense.

It played at the Venice Film Festival.