Mokhtar

Mokhtar

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

This is an affecting piece from a fledgling talent. It's powerful, even heart-breaking, transforming almost without warning from rural tranquility to callous inhumanity.

In one of those parts of the world where houses are made of mud-brick and tarpaulin and children lead goats to graze, Mokhtar tends his flock. They climb a tree, stark against the blue sky, the bleating of kids. Mokhtar is played by Abdellah Ichiki and there's an honesty to his performance that makes what happens later staggering. An ingenue, perhaps, with a kindness to him. When he finds a baby owl, all screeching and down, he does what anyone might do, and brings it home. It is the devil.

Or a demon, at least, to his father. Omar (Belarbi) is unhappy with the presence. He locks his son in an outbuilding until a conclusion is reached. That's it, more or less. Mokhtar's grandmother, played by Ichiki's actual grandmother Sfia Moussa brings him food, tries to temper his father's ire. Time passes.

Written and directed by Halima Ouardriri, this is a stunning debut, a sure signal of her abilities. In notes the intention to show a moment when a life becomes less magical is, well, crusading. Filmed with amateur actors near the Atlas Mountains in Morocco it has a quasi-documentary feel, even more unsurprising since it's apparently based upon a true story.

Duraid Munajim's cinematography catches the colours of the Moroccan skies and the tears upon the boy's cheeks. Radwan Moumneh's music is vital, there's excellent sound work by Bruno Pucella, and the model work of Olivier Colat-Parros is excellent - there are animals here that are not animals, but it is only that you subsequently know they are there that allows you to determine that you saw them. The owl and cat wranglers and the production shepherd (or goat-herd, one assumes) all have important roles too. It comes back to Ichiki as Mokhtar, however, playing jacks with stones in the shade of a scrub-tree, inquiring after the noise of that baby owl. Cats wander in the courtyard of the house, but his father stalks across it. There is a demon here, undoubtedly, but made by human nature. This is exceptional, haunting, and worth seeking out.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2011
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A boy brings home an injured bird only to be rejected by his father, who is convinced that it is a demon.
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Director: Halima Ouardiri

Year: 2010

Runtime: 16 minutes

Country: Canada


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