An Algerian man deported from France struggles to re-adapt to life in his remote village in “Back Home,” a sincere but unenlightening effort to explore tradition versus modernity issues in today’s Algeria. Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche, a French helmer of Algerian origin, follows up his related first feature “Wesh-Wesh” with a tale both unstructured and under-dramatized, leaving very little story help for audiences to focus on. Exotica fans may go for the rare locations work in rural Algeria, but prospects beyond festivals are slim.
A dead-beat Ameur-Zaimeche plays Kamel, an uncomfortable, nearly mute stranger forced back to his native land. He has just gotten out of prison, so his chances of returning to France or going just about anywhere else in the world have been cut off. At first he bonds with the other men in the village, who spend their time in the bar playing dominos with no signs of gainful employment.
About a half an hour into the film, some conflict at last arises. A group of teens from another town posturing as religious fanatics beat up and almost kill Kamel’s cousin Bouzid (Abel Jafri) over a crate of booze. This scary scene leads nowhere, however, and the story switches to Louisa (Meriem Serbah), a surprisingly modern young woman whose burning ambition is to be a singer.
When her husband abandons her and kidnaps their small son, brother Bouzid beats her for “humiliating” the family, but Kamel defends her to the domino players. Film actually gets more interesting when it goes off the rails and follows Louisa into a mental hospital, where she sings Billie Holiday torch songs to the residents.
In the same vein, soulful moments with film’s composer Rodolphe Burger sitting on a hillside playing electric guitar, apparently to symbolize Kamel’s restlessness, are way too much of a reach.
Apart from the cipher-like Ameur-Zaimeche, actors show some spark in their underwritten roles. Brightly lit camerawork is pedestrian. Original title, “Bled Number One,” refers to a village (“bled”).