Until The Birds Return

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Until The Birds Return
"Like so many anthology films, it suffers from the fact that the sections are uneven, with the middle segment soaring high above the two bookend stories."

This triptych of tales from debut director Karim Moussaoui, paints a portrait of modern Algiers, still living with the aftermath of the Algerian Civil War that raged in the country in the 1990s. This is a bird's eye view of the country, flitting from one story to the next and from town to countryside, the whole connected by a common feeling of emotional damage rather than being strongly interlinked by narrative.

Co-written with Maud Ameline (Camille Rewinds), like so many anthology films, it suffers from the fact that the sections are uneven, with the middle segment soaring high above the two bookend stories. The structure also leaves scant time for character development, which takes its toll on the first and final sections, in particular.

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The first segment concerns, at least in part, generational conflict. Well-off builder Mourad (Mohamed Djourhri), at the behest of his ex-wife Lila (Sonia Mekkiou) is trying to convince his son to complete college - just one of a number of problems he faces, not least because wife No.2 (Aure Atika) is also restless. Twin ideas of "nothing changes" and "nothing lasts", will go on to resonate through all the segments of the film, as the tension between the status quo and something different makes itself felt in different ways. Despite its family grounding, this first section hinges on an act of violence and Mourad's reaction to it, a choice that, along with its mental aftermath for Mourad, again shows how wartime fears can become part of a national psyche.

In the final segment, similar fears will resurface, as a doctor (Hassan Kachach) finds his complicity in a war crime comes back to haunt him in the story of a woman (Nadia Kaci), who has a living, breathing reminder of the conflict - her son. These two sections, while making perfectly valid points, are on the airless side, more suited to a stage than screen.

In the middle section of the film, Ameline and Moussaoui allow unfettered emotions to triumph over talking, which puts wind beneath the wings of the action. It is Mourad's employee Djalil (Mehdi Ramdani) whom we follow into the tale. He takes a couple of days off from his job to drive a family friend's daughter Aïcha (Hania Amar) to her wedding venue. When the trip hits trouble, we discover that Djalil and Aïcha have their own shared history - one that they might not be ready to put in the past.

Here, the characters are allowed to flourish as sparky exchanges between the two morph into something more emotionally charged, Moussaoui allows two moments of climax, both of which are set to music - one, a pitch-perfect scene of dancing in an empty bar and the other, an almost surreal encounter with a band on the open road. These moments of freshness suggest Moussaoui has considerable talent, once he lets his own imagination take flight.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2018
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Until The Birds Return packshot
Algeria today. Past and present collide in the lives of a newly wealthy property developer, a young woman torn between the path of reason and sentiment and a neurologist whose past catches up with him.

Director: Karim Moussaoui

Writer: Maud Ameline, Karim Moussaoui

Starring: Aure Atika, Hania Amar

Year: 2017

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

Cannes 2017
NDNF 2018

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