Eye For Film >> Movies >> 143 Sahara Street (2019) Film Review
143 Sahara Street
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
If you're looking to get away from civilisation, you could certainly do a lot worse than head to Algeria's El Menia - a desert region in the centre of the country. It is dissected by Route Nationale 1 and it along the route in this unlikely spot that you will find Malika, the elderly owner of a roadside cafe, dishing up eggs, tea and the occasional observation on life. Paradoxically, she may be away from what could be classed as "civilisation" in its broadest sense but all the world seems to come to her, from a Polish biker to a busload of musicians who hold an impromptu singsong.
Through the course of this thoughtful, observational documentary from Hassen Ferhani, we never quite learn where Malika came from, although we gather she arrived in 1994, when she had to overcome prejudice from the local community who viewed a single woman opening up such an establishment with deep suspicion. Biographical detail comes in scraps and she even casts doubt over some of that, although to what degree she is lying when she says things are "a lie" is, like much here, open to interpretation.
Where Malika is going to is also in doubt, as we see, across the sand and windswept highway, a massive petrol station and restaurant beginning to take shape, that will come to dwarf her tiny cafe with its blue-washed walls. Customers try to reassure her, but we can see how hard it must be to ignore something so obvious. What's not in doubt is her love for her talkative cat Mimi or her fierce independence.
Customers - almost all men - come an go, some bringing tales from the road, small talk or opinions. She endures or indulges these to different degrees and, between times, occasionally offers asides to Ferhani on things including, but not limited to, her dislike of women and nosey imams. Life by, if not on, the road, is revealed in snippets, an impromptu dance here, a joke with a customer there, building a picture of shared humanity and communication that often goes beyond language.
This is largely a slowburn affair, with Ferhani letting the rhythms of the desert, its dusty road and its acres of sky play their part. The sense of contemplation is added to by the mostly fixed camera, watching Malika's actions intently and when the director breaks from this at one point to take us spinning around the cafe's outside, it only further emphasises the sense of isolation. By the end, Malika herself mostly remains a mystery but this is a testament to her stoicism in the face of change and transience.Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2020