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Wanderers of the Desert
     

Wanderers of the Desert

Cast: Nacer Khemir, Soufiane Makni, Nouredine Kasbaoui, Sonia Ichti

 
Tunisian director Nacer Khemir kick-started his multi-award winning desert trilogy with Al-Haymun (The Wanderers of the Desert). This gentle drama begins with a teacher's arrival in a village school situated in the middle of the desert; he assumes control and administration of the charges, and begins to adjust to life in the region, prompting a

Overview

Tunisian director Nacer Khemir kick-started his multi-award winning desert trilogy with Al-Haymun (The Wanderers of the Desert). This gentle drama begins with a teacher's arrival in a village school situated in the middle of the desert; he assumes control and administration of the charges, and begins to adjust to life in the region, prompting a slice-of-life portrait of the day-to-day in the Middle East. Khemir, however, intercuts these lyrical observations of the school, the teacher and the various students with startling fantasy elements that pull from centuries of Middle Eastern lore and demonstrate influence by The Arabian Nights. As the narrative rolls forward, mythical characters spring from nearby wells and dunes of sand; the local children scuttle through a strange subterranean labyrinth; an odd ship washes up in the desert; and the teacher treks off to an undefined meeting and never returns. Khemir unexpectedly turns his onscreen landscape into the intersection between the routine day-to-day of desert life and centuries of indigenous legend - giving the story itself a shimmering magic realist quality.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
Something must have been lost in the translation with this fantasy-tinged Tunisian effort from 1984. The barely intelligible premise has to do with an instructor (writer-director-star Nacer Khemir) who arrives at an eccentric community in the middle of the desert. His mission involves teaching the students of a crumbling, decrepit old town populated by a nearly indistinguishable cast of Arabic characters. Unfortunately, that's about as exciting and as lucid as this opus gets. The bottom line: Wanderers of the Desert is the kind of foreign film that gives foreign films a bad name. As the narrative unfurls, bizarre events transpire, many of which revolve around the past disappearance of a pack of children from the town - the "wanderers" of the title - allegedly lured away from the community by a mysterious force said to hold the town under a "curse." Just before this Hamelin-like event, the children each dreamt of a creature from Arabic mythology - a centaur-type character with the torso and countenance of a lusty young woman, which apparently summoned them into decades of wandering aimlessly, and which appears in the picture, from time to time, as a static illustration on a wall tapestry. Khemir also tosses in such occurrences as an empty ship (owned by Sinbad the Sailor) that "washes up" in the middle of the desert, rumors of a buried treasure in the desert that prompted one poor fellow to spend 50 years of his life digging through the sand in vain; and a spirit that emerges from a well to communicate with an odd little boy whose head is shaven into a mullet. Khemir's most overwhelming mistake lies in plunging his audience into a realm with which most Western viewers are completely ignorant. One senses that a very definite logical fabric may lie buried beneath the meager excuse for a narrative; sorting out the meanings is another matter altogether, and close to impossible at that. The writer-director obviously wanted to create a "mysterious" and "mystical" ambience by staying two steps ahead of the audience in terms of comprehension, and that's fine, but he goes too far by venturing into the completely unintelligible. Khemir fails to define even the basics of the world handed to us - the cornerstone of solid storytelling. Even twenty, thirty, forty minutes in, we have only the faintest semblance of what is happening and who everyone is. Some films - Boorman's flawed Zardoz comes immediately to mind - begin in this manner and then gradually, and ingeniously, hand the audience the pieces necessary to complete the puzzle; in the case of Wanderers, we feel as baffled at the conclusion of the story as we did at the outset. The writer-director fills his narrative with odd plot points, such as the desire of the said little boy to collect and break every mirror in the town to cause a garden to blossom, and the ghostly appearances of a wizened old woman in a black turban who eventually lures the schoolteacher into oblivion. Presumably these events have some sort of allegorical or symbolic denotation within the context of Middle Eastern lore, but if so, it will fly well outside the radar of anyone without a doctorate in Arabic studies. (Perhaps they could have asked Salman Rushdie to do an explanatory voiceover on the DVD). On an equally dispiriting note, one senses that Khemir is aggressively striving for a "mythological" ambience, and one can palpably feel the instances in which he misses the mark; the dull emergence of the spirit from the well comes immediately to mind (we merely see human hands emerging from over the top of the stone rim and a rather average-looking man climb out) as does the director's decision to never actually picture the animate female centaur onscreen. It would not even be necessary for Khemir to include mythical creatures here to accomplish the ambience he is seeking (Fellini Satyricon comes to mind as a film that established the feeling without resorting to non-human characters), but he at least needs a series of striking, quasi-apocalyptic visuals. Given how remarkably banal, and excruciatingly boring, and un-fantastic, the characters and situations are, one might as well be watching a Middle Eastern remake of Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Product Details

Release Date:
03/25/2008
UPC:
0643519121097
Original Release:
1984
Rating:
NR
Source:
Typecast Pictures
Time:
1:35:00
Sales rank:
56,609

Cast & Crew

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Wanderers of the Desert
1. Chapter 1 [7:23]
2. Chapter 2 [7:35]
3. Chapter 3 [7:17]
4. Chapter 4 [6:37]
5. Chapter 5 [8:34]
6. Chapter 6 [4:29]
7. Chapter 7 [:14]
8. Chapter 8 [:14]
9. Chapter 9 [:14]
10. Chapter 10 [:14]
11. Chapter 11 [:14]
12. Chapter 12 [:14]

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