Two teenage girls from the outskirts of Paris find themselves stranded in the capital during one eventful night in “The Hamlet Sisters.” An engaging tale of intuition, misleading appearances and interlocking destinies made for a pittance ($160,000), pic confirms the storytelling talents of Algerian-born French helmer Abdelkrim Bahloul, who co-wrote Rachid Bouchareb’s excellent repatriation drama “Cheb” (1991) and directed the enjoyably offbeat genre-bender “Vampire in Paradise” (1992). Fests and specialized distribs should take heed.
Mrs. Hamlet, a working single mom, gives her daughters permission to go to a disco in the city with slightly older Thomas at the wheel. Thomas passes out at the club, the sisters miss the last train home and their mom’s phone has been cut off. They’re stuck.
A scruffy middle-aged man of Algerian heritage offers to bail them out with the cash for the costly cab ride home. They reject the offer with fear and contempt, but the man secretly continues to look out for them, eventually rescuing the girls from a close call.
Though he looks decrepit, he’s a treasure-trove of unpretentious wisdom on countless topics, from luxury fabrics to the great philosophers. For a few precious hours, the sisters — whose dad returned to North Africa when they were babies — are treated to the selfless attentions of a makeshift surrogate father.
Shot and edited with simplicity and intelligence, the narrative juggles serendipity, fortune and misfortune in a compact nocturnal landscape, and earns its emotional dividends fair and square. Mouloud Tadjer’s perf makes a dumpy-looking guy shine with an inner beauty and unshakable dignity both touching and memorable. Well-paced encounters are intercut with the parallel story of an office worker who pleads for a day off but runs into stone-hearted superiors; his connection to the other characters is revealed in the final frames.
For the record, the reason the girls’ last name is Hamlet has nothing to do with Shakespeare.