Helmed by Lebanese artist and filmmaker Ali Cherri in his feature debut, The Dam is an enigmatic and often eerie mood piece which incorporates elements of the supernatural as it weaves a poignant political allegory of revolution.
Set on the banks of the Nile near the Merowe dam in Sudan, Maher (Maher El Khair) works at a brickyard, toiling in the baking sun for not much pay. During the day, he listens to radio broadcasts about the ongoing revolution, where chants of peace and justice from the protestors merge with reports of corpses floating in the river. By night, he travels to the desert to resume construction of a towering statue with a dogged determination. Moreover, whatever he’s creating seems to be communicating with him.
With very little dialogue spoken, sometimes with entire sequences going by with just El Khair gazing silently into nowhere, the bulk of the storytelling rests on the atmosphere Cherri creates. The news reports about the revolution seem like they couldn’t be further from the stillness and desert of the brickyard. However, the water rushing through the dam’s pipes acts as an effective metaphor for the conflict as the country’s regime struggles to hold back the tide of change. Likewise, the supernatural sequences play out like hallucinatory nightmares, though his visions could just as easily be the result of heatstroke from all the time he spends in the sun or from fever dreams caused by a strange wound on his back. A lot of what’s onscreen is left up to the viewer’s interpretation. Whatever conclusion audiences come to, though, the result is an arresting cinematic experience.
Despite the vivid artistry on display, however, The Dam has a habit of dragging its feet due to its overindulgence in meandering long takes, which add little to the atmosphere and overstay their welcome. The result is an under-80-minute film that feels far longer than it is.
While the symbolic significance of some sequences can sometimes feel impenetrable, Cherri’s debut nevertheless succeeds at being an apt and visually impressive message of hope and resistance.
The Dam is released in select cinemas on 12th May 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Dam here: