Expectations and one’s sensibilities can greatly impact the way one experiences a movie. This will likely be the case with Apatride (Stateless), the new feature from Moroccan filmmaker Narjiss Nejjar. The gorgeous visuals, especially the landscapes, and some quiet moments early on are breathtaking.
Hénia (El Ghalia Ben Zaouia) is a young Moroccan woman who is stuck without papers on the border between Algeria and Morocco. She and her father were deported from Algeria when she was just a child, reminiscent of the year 1975 when the Algerian government kicked out thousands of Moroccans who had settled there generations earlier. She was found and raised by a kind caretaker. This woman’s blind elderly brother returns, as does his son (Avishay Benazra), who always had a magnetic connection to Hénia. His desire and some longing looks are exchanged throughout the film before they give in to their longing. Hénia is pressured to take the elderly man as her husband, although she is none too pleased.
It is a shame that the dialogue and plot are a bit predictable from the get-go. There was so much potential that could have elevated Stateless to another level of filmmaking. The conversations between Hénia, her older husband and his son all seem quite forced and rather overacted. At some point, the feature almost resembles the structure of a Mexican telenovela. The tool that Nejjar employes, shifting the focus from close ups of characters with what is in the background works well at first, but after 20-odd times seeing this technique used, it feels a bit stale and repetitive.
Toward the latter third of the film, Lise (Julie Gayet) arrives from France and she and Hénia instantly bond. The silent, meaningful exchanges between these women gives a pulse to the story. Too bad it was such a fleeting moment. It would be interesting to see Stateless recut into a short film, with just the solo images of Hénia, especially from the first half, and her shared scenes with Lise.
Perhaps the future will permit Nejjar to shoot a script penned by a more seasoned writer. She clearly has a penchant for creating intoxicating and luscious imagery.
Apatride (Stateless) does not have a UK release date yet.
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