In Algeria in the 1990s, terrorists were able to come down from the mountains, repent, reform and reintegrate. One such Repentant, Rachid, ends up in the city, working in a café. We are unsure whether he is using the situation or is being used by others.
I found myself checking my watch several times during this film, wishing things would get going. We spend a lot of time watching people waiting, making coffee, drinking coffee, walking the whole length of the road, sitting, waiting some more, and so on. By the time we find out what this film is really about, it is already way too late for us to care or feel involved. This is especially awful as the main elements of the film – a possibly-reformed terrorist, a kidnapped girl and the location of her grave – really ought to be more engaging.
There is no growing sense of dread or danger, as the characters have kept everything to themselves, and therefore the impact of the outcome is dissipated.
Some films go far in their determination not to be slick and Hollywood, displaying a feeling of authenticity by allowing the camera to roll in real time with people doing things naturally – sitting, waiting, driving and so on. The Repentant comes across as the opposite of tightly edited, and does not give the audience anything to guess at until near the end of the film, by which time we have just watched people doing stuff.
Read more reviews from the 56th London Film Festival here.