Judge Josh Rode masquerades as a Scottish highlander every autumn at the local Ren Faire.
When dreams become reality, it's time to wake up.
In 2003, The Global Film Initiative started to distribute overlooked films from around the world. If Masquerades is indicative of the films they've discovered, they're worth looking into.
Facts of the Case
Mounir (Lyès Salem, Poupoupidou, who also wrote and directed) is a hard working gardener, but he dreams of more. He lives in a small house in the middle of an Algerian dustbowl with his wife, son, and sister, Rym. His fondest desire is to marry Rym off to a respectable (read: rich) man, who will then help raise Mounir's family up a level or two in society. Unfortunately, Rym is afflicted with a case of narcolepsy so severe that she nods off, for no apparent reason, at all hours of the day. When Mounir's son overhears local gossips badmouthing the family, Mounir gets drunk and announces to everyone that a rich suitor has asked for Rym's hand. Soon the town is in a rumor-spreading uproar as the fake fiancée is discussed and embellishments are added, and Mounir becomes the man about town…until it comes time to start planning the fake wedding.
Masquerades features some of the best actors you have never heard of, and it is because of them that the film works as well as it does. The story is not overly original, and parts of it build drama by wading into "this guy should know better than that" sitcom thematics, but great performances can erase any number of storyline flaws.
Salem brings a lot of energy to his role. A bit too much, in fact; he quickly becomes a distraction. The film bogs down in the middle, not coincidentally because his character, intent on taking advantage of all the good will everyone is suddenly throwing his way, dominates the screen during that time. The film is at its best when the other characters, especially the women, are allowed to share the screen.
Sarah Reguieg is good as the narcoleptic Rym, although she spends as much time sleeping as she does acting. When she's awake, she gets to convey a wide range of emotion, from joy to despair, shock to slyness, and she does so with confident ease. She seems somehow innocent and sultry at the same time, which is not an easy combination to pull off.
Mohamed Bouchaïb does a reasonable job as Khliffa, Mounir's best friend and Rym's secret suitor. He conveys a lot of emotion with his dark, expressive eyes, but his performance hints at a weak will at times which undermines his character's growth. (It's been four years, tell Mounir the truth about your feelings for Rym, already!)
Rym Takoucht (Le thé d'Ania) steals the show as Mounir's wife Habiba. From Alice Kramden to Marge Simpson, the long-suffering-wife archetype has been done a zillion times before, yet Takoucht somehow manages to make it fresh and funny. One querulous look from her speaks volumes more than a litany of words from Mounir.
Masquerades has some narrative oddities. Rym's narcolepsy is the largest; it seems to exist merely as an excuse to keep the gorgeous Rym from having wealthy suitors. The film eventually tries to tie it in as a sign of true love, but that moment comes too late and is not given enough development time, so the whole thing never works as more than a crutch. Another inconsistency is Khliffa's interest in being an artist. It is brought up as the centerpiece of a scene between Mournir and Khliffa, giving the implication that it would eventually play a role in the greater story. But then the film moves on and never glances back at Khliffa's murals. These quibbles don't hurt the enjoyment of the film, but they do give hints that Salem could have dug a little deeper to find richer emotional ore.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is fine during day shots, but suffers greatly in the dark, where heavy grain takes over the screen. The colors are as washed out as the desert the town is set in, and are not helped by the drab clothing everyone wears. This makes the few gardening shots all the more vibrant for their sudden influx of greenery. The Dolby 2.0 stereo sound is likewise adequate, with the Arabic, French, and brief English lines coming through clearly in most cases. The soundtrack ranges from inconspicuous to just this side of obnoxious; fortunately, it never quite crosses that line. Subtitles are large and easy to read, but a few times blink off a touch too soon.
Aside from a promotional trailer collage for The Global Film Initiative at the beginning, there are no extras you can see from your DVD player. Put the disc in your computer, however, and you can peruse a PDF "Discussion Guide," that acts as a sort of teaching tool. (Sample discussion question: "On what kinds of things is authority based in the village, and are these forms of authority always complementary or are they at odds with one another?")
Masquerades struggles at times, but great performances lift it above its uneven story and make it really fun. I wish Reguieg and Takoucht would make more movies.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Global Film Initiative
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