Exils (2004)

“Even in key moments – when Zano gets sexually jealous over Naima’s brief encounter in a flamenco bar, or the climactic Sufi ritual – it feels like we’re eyeing events from a distance. Shame, because Duris and Azabal are lively performers, showing off their sizzle in a scene where fruit-picking becomes foreplay.”

‘Exils’, directed by Tony Gatlif in 2004, is a French road movie following the journey of two bohemian twenty-somethings from Paris, Zano and Naima, played by Romain Duris and Lubna Azabal. Zano was born in Algiers and resolves to travel back there to revisit his parents old house. The pair journey through Spain, occasionally getting lost, meeting people, working in farms. They eventually make it to Algiers and their journey is transformed into a pilgrimage. It’s a film packed with stunning images, with a real sense of place and space, and two natural performances. The cultural tensions between France and Algeria are evident, but the personalities of the two main characters, their drifting nature and sense of fun pushes any broader political subtexts to the background. It reminded me of ‘Pierrot le Fou’ but without the edgy and anarchic anti-establishment narrative. Instead, ‘Exils’ seems like a very personal story, and indeed it drew of the experiences and memories of the director who was returning to his birthplace for the first time when making the movie. It’s less a travelogue and more a philosophical meander through Europe and across northern Africa, but the highlights od the film as always the intimate moments between Zano and Naima as they argue, reconcile, support one another and play. The outcome of their journey is unclear, we see Naima’s reluctance to conform to the stricter society, and the final scene is one of liberation with a sense that their journey hasn’t really finished.

Would I recommend it? Yes – I’m tempted to suggest a film like ‘The Milky Way’ as a double bill – a movie that matches ‘Exils’ sense of a meandering pilgrimage.

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