"The Sleeping Child" joins films like Andre Techine's "Loin" in offering the North African p.o.v. on the labor drain to Europe. This well-shot feature puts an interesting focus on the women left behind, but fails to get the viewer emotionally involved in their plight. Limited arthouse release will be boosted by festival exposure and prizes.

An immigration film seen from the other side of the telescope, “The Sleeping Child” joins films like Andre Techine’s “Loin” in offering the North African p.o.v. on the labor drain to Europe. Suffice it to say, it’s bleak. This well-shot feature bow by Moroccan helmer Yasmine Kassari puts an interesting focus on the women left behind, but fails to get the viewer emotionally involved in their plight. Limited arthouse release will be boosted by festival exposure and prizes.

In a mud-and-stone village on the edge of the desert, Halima (Rachida Brakni) prepares for the wedding of her friend Zeinab (Mounia Osfour). At first, her desolate observation that “the men have all left” seems contradicted by the many youths at the wedding, but the next day they do, indeed, all depart for Europe to seek work as clandestine immigrants, including Zeinab’s groom. Only women are left in the village to work in the fields and await the men’s promised return.

Of all the colorful folk traditions in the film, none is stranger than that adopted by Zeinab when she discovers she’s pregnant. Using white magic, she puts her unborn infant to sleep until a more convenient time for its birth, when a talisman can be used to awaken it. But as the months roll by, her husband’s return seems increasingly remote.

There are no telephones in the village and, as their anguishing wait turns desperate, they try to communicate with their men via videotapes and photos made in a nearby town. Zeinab’s husband writes back that she should never leave the village again without his permission. Halima is severely punished for daring an embrace with a young man from the next village, leaving her beaten but unrepentant. Film’s ending could have been clearer, but one gets the gist of a liberating gesture being made that closes the story on a rebellious note.

As the intelligent but illiterate girls, Brakni and Osfour are easy to relate to, creating a noteworthy space between their mothers’ hide-bound, male-oriented traditions and modern ways of thinking, which include a woman’s right to happiness.

Solid tech work is led by Yorgos Arvanitis’ richly colored photography, which captures the sad emptiness of the land and its vast panoramas.

The Sleeping Child

Belgium-Morocco

Production

A Les Film de la Dreve production in association with Les Coquelicots de l'Oriental. Produced by Jean-Jacques Andrien. Directed, written by Yasmine Kassari.

Crew

Camera (color), Yorgos Arvanitis; editor, Susanna Rossberg; costume designer, Kassari; sound, Anne Frey. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 9, 2004. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Mounia Osfour, Rachida Brakni, Nermine Haggar, Aissa Abdessamie. (Arab and Berber dialogue)
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