Though much of the action and plotting are swathed in ethnic mists, there's clearly a precise talent at work behind "The Ark of the Desert," a Romeo & Juliet story set in a tradition-bound Saharan oasis.

Though much of the action and plotting are swathed in ethnic mists, there’s clearly a precise talent at work behind “The Ark of the Desert,” a Romeo & Juliet story set in a tradition-bound Saharan oasis. Obscure but still fascinating result looks bound for festival and Eurotube exposure, where auds may be familiar with Algerian director Mohamed Chouikh’s previous allegories, “The Citadel” and “Youcef, or The Legend of the Seventh Sleeper.”

When young Amin and Myriam are caught kissing in the sand dunes, deep-seated religious rivalries are opened up in a tiny desert community, exacerbated by the fact that the girl is from a rich family and the boy from a poor one. Despite Amin’s brief dalliance with another girl, the young lovers are finally reunited, but at great cost to the village’s inhabitants.

The script never really explains the rivalries at work, nor the meaning of much of the religious paraphernalia and traditional customs. Pic works on an almost mythic, elevated level, pointed up by the literary-sounding dialogue, which may have more meaning for Arab auds.

Still, the vividness of Chouikh’s visual palette — including a stunning, almost throwaway image in the final reel — and use of vividly colored clothing and emblems ensures the movie never palls. Tech credits are good, especially Mustapha Belmihoud’s sharp lensing and Mohamed Rechoud’s Western-sounding chamber score.

The Ark of the Desert

(ALGERIAN-FRENCH-GERMAN)

Production

An Atlas Films, ENAP (Algeria)/K-Films (France)/Vulkan Kultur (Germany) production. (International sales: K-Films, Paris.) Directed, written by Mohamed Chouikh.

Crew

Camera (color), Mustapha Belmihoud; editor, Yamina Chouikh; music, Mohamed Rechoud; sound, Rachid Bouaffia, Gerard Rousseau; assistant director, Halim Sahraoui. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 13, 1997. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Myriam ..... Myriam Aouffen Houria ..... Messaouda Adami Amin ..... Hacen Abdou (Arabic dialogue)
With: Amin Chouikh, Shyraz Aliane.
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