(director: Oliver Laxe; screenwriter: Santiago Fillol; cinematographer: Mauro Merce editor: Cristóbal Fernández; music: Emilio García Rivas; cast: Ahmed Hammoud (Ahmed), Shakib Ben Omar (Shakib), Saïd Aagli (Said), Ikram Anzouli (Ikram), Ahmed El Othemani (Mohammed), Hamid Fardjad (Sheik); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Felipe Lage; Grasshopper Film; 2016-Morocco/Spain/France/Qatar-in Arabic with English subtitles)

“A visually beautiful loose-ended experimental fairy tale film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 35-year-old French-born Galician, Morocco-based, actor and director, Oliver Laxe (“You Are All Captains”), shoots in 16mm a visually beautiful loose-ended experimental fairy tale film that’s photographed by Mauro Merce and acted by non-professionals in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. Laxe co-writes with Santiago Fillol this allegorical story that is set in the Middle Ages in the lands of the Maghreb (North-West Africa).

It tells of a dying old sheik (Hamid Fardjad), a Sufi master, being escorted, on the hiring of his wife, by a few nomads on a caravan of horses. She wants the men to search for a pass through the Atlas mountains, so her husband can be buried on the other side of the mountain range with a proper funeral in his birthplace of the ancient but ruined city of Sijilmasa (once known for its gold). When he dies on the journey, he’s still taken to the burial spot on the edge of the Sahara, despite the objections of the funeral diggers Saïd Aagli and Ahmed Hammoud. They were signed on to bury him and want to bury him on the spot where he died rather than go on with the dangerous journey in the wrong season. A holy fool, Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar), is on the caravan, along with the nomads, who has a mysterious presence. The others in the caravan laugh in derision at this bizarre, verbose young man, but the obsessed one they call Pot Face is a man who insists they go to Sijilmasa for the burial. He will eventually end up as the leader of the group because he keeps the faith, as he is the only one who insists they go through the narrow pass despite its dangers until he eventually convinces everyone. The fragmented film, ambiguous as it is, still attempts to delve into the mysticism of Sufism for the Westerner, as seen through the storybook visions told on the journey that could have come straight from the Koran. The sheikh’s death isa sobering experiencefor all the travelers, as they are now given the chance to reflect on their own life purpose during this eventful moment. Laxe cites Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini as an influence, particularly his Medea (1969).

In this minimalist film, one that’s deliberately slow paced and one whose images have a hard-to-describe beauty that reflects the harsh reality of its mountain landscape, the viewer is asked to meditate in these surroundings on the traveling situation. Laxe expects the viewer to answer for themselves any questions about faith they may have and to think about how those on the journey were forced to deal with both their base instincts and what might have been divinely inspired. It’s the sort of enchanting film you either fall under its spell or you don’t.

REVIEWED ON 7/7/2018 GRADE: B+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/