12-10-2016

FIPRESCI Warsaw Critics Project Review: Chouf

By Zuzana Sotáková
Chouf directed by Karim Dridi Chouf directed by Karim Dridi

Following its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Chouf – the new Marseille-set crime drama by French-Tunisian director and screenwriter Karim Dridi – shoots its way into Polish cinemas with a showing in the Special Screenings section of the 32nd Warsaw FF. 

Its bullets, however, are pretty hit and miss.

At the very beginning of the film, we meet college student Sofiane (Sofian Khammes), back home for the summer holidays, whose brother Slim (Mourad Tahar Boussatha) provides his family income as a drug dealer. Not long after the film establishes its setting of urban hoods defined by high-rise blocks and young drug cartels, Slim is killed in front of his family’s home, while his family have lunch. Sofiane decides to take a break from school and avenge his brother’s death. So begins his spiral: estrangement from his family and lover on the one hand, and a descent into the violent, everyday realities of the hood on the other.

Though Sofiane moves among typical streets and suburbs, snack bars and a hidden drug kitchen with a well-defined purpose, his reason for doing so is concluded, disappointedly, in the middle of the film. As a result, the second half of the film lacks dramatic motivation. Even though there are some twists, all of them are quite easily predictable and flat. Observant viewers will anticipate all the film’s cards and the game has barely begun.

Mystery and tension, essential ammunition in crime thrillers such as this, here result in a half-baked story. This critic was left decoding a story which was far from plausible. Let’s, for instance, assume that Sofiane is the smartest guy in the hood: the question is, if his reasons are strong but he cannot pull a trigger or take any decisive action (as is clear on several occasions), who can believe that in the end he will in cold blood achieve a retaliation for his brother’s death?

This non-inventive grasp of the topic is the biggest issue with Chouf.  In the long run it seems like the soul of the story is prematurely shot down. This is a pity, as the performances by Khammes, Foued Nabba (who plays local gang boss Reda) and Zine Darar (who plays drug pusher Marteau), who are not very known to European audiences, are believable. The visually appealing subject, open to experimentation, is noteworthy, immersing viewers into the atmosphere of the story. And since similar films or TV shows are rife, such a formal approach prevents the film from being too arduous.

Karim Dridi has filmed several dramas in the past 20 years. Some of these were introduced at prestigious festivals, including Locarno and Venice. In his previous films can be found not only a gritty urban milieu (Pigalle or Chamsa), but also a portrayal of fraternal relationships (Fureur). But their lukewarm reception is also unfortunately the expected destiny of his latest film.

Last modified on 12-10-2016