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LAETITIA CASTA AND NESSIM AMAOUCHE IN THE APACHES

Berber deal puzzler

Nessim Amaouche's film abut an illegitimate man taken up by his Berber father for legal and cultural reasons is atmospheric and intriguing, but halting and inexplicable. It has moments, as well as good actors and good visuals, but overall it's a pretty total misfire. The hip Paris arts weekly Les Inrokuptibles commented, since the director took six years to rerelease this second feature, that Amaouche is "a director with a temperament as patient, roving and reflective as his films." Okay. But what Amaouche doesn't seem aware of is the need to engage the viewer in his patient roving reflections, which sometimes in The Apaches just don't make much sense. Guillaume Breaud, who co scripted Pascale Ferran's weird and wonderful Bird People, may have been too left-field a collaborator to be helpful. The screenplay leaps and skips among moods, time periods, and genres without logic or much sense of pacing.

Opening sequences, with a voice over (by actor-director Serge Bozon) that returns at the end. suggests a gangster-clan story, explaining how a democratically structured Algerian Berber community structure like a loose corporation enables remote Kabyle (north Algerian Berber) villages to invest in cafes and bars in Paris, then illegally transfer the profits back to the homeland, sometimes by a family head with money wrapped in a fake damaged leg.

But then things slow down and become semi surreal as we focus partly on a thirty-something loner named Samir (played unappealingly by writer-director Amaouche), who's needed by his long-absent father (Djemel Barek) to close a deal selling his cafe in the (Algerian-intensive) Barbès quarter of Paris. Berber clan rules require co owners, who're all related, to meet to approve this deal and the sale price. And for it to be legal, the head of each family branch must be accompanied at the meeting by his eldest son. Samir is the cafe owner's eldest son. He's approached about this by a lawyer called Jean (André Dusollier), a longtime friend-fixer-collaborator (somewhat the dicey kind of role Dusollier played also in Nicolas Pariser's The Great Game/Le grand jeu, but with a gemütlich side, since Berber family members call Jean tonton, "unky."

Meanwhile Samir begins reminiscing about his childhood, spurred by the recent death of his French mother, Jeanne (Laetitia Casta), with whom he grew up. Scenes of young Samir unreel as if in real time; with young Samir played by a child actor who doesn't in the least resemble the adult Amaouche. Later, grownup Samir begins dating a woman played also by Laetitia Casta, which is weird too, and also confusing.

Blurbs about the film hint that Jean has some kind of occult, illegal role in the life of Samir's father, but maybe details lie on the cutting room floor. In the event. the reluctant, asocial Samir attends the meeting on the cafe sale as he's been asked to do, and the sale goes through without a hitch. This is a sequence of plodding documentary realism; so is the sequence when Samir, who's refused to accept a financial share or even go to the celebratory dinner, goes up a back stair to kiss the aged family matriarch (Fadhma N'Soumer). A final fast-forward scene shows Samir has had a kid by the woman played by the actress who played his mother, and finally learned to smile.

There are scenes at a bath house, at the races, and at a boxing gym, and even a diegetic use of Umm Kalsoum's song "Al-Atlal," beloved of North Africans, as well as many details about Samir's Berber relatives of various generations, of whom we see old family photos. There are many signs that this film was painstakingly and carefully put together with an effort to represent its Kabyle characters authentically. Nonetheless all the fine effort has resulted in a film that winds up feeling incoherent and lifeless. Amaouche might have started off better by casting somebody other than himself in the lead.

The Apaches/Des Apaches, 97 mins., debuted 2 July 2015 at La Rochelle. French theatrical relaese 22 July 2015 (AlloCiné press rating 3.2/14 only fair, but high ratings from prestigious journals). It was screened for this review as part of the 2016 Film Society of Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema where the public screenings are Fri., Mar. 4 at 4 p.m. and Sun., Mar. 13 at 1:30.

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