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Out of Coverage

A Damascus man goes a bit too far in rendering a service to a jailed friend in vet director Abdellatif Abdelhamid's clever but overextended comedy "Out of Coverage."

With:
With: Fayez Kazak, Saba Moubarak, Fadouwa Souleiman, Mohammed Kanouch, Hiroki Okazaki.

A Damascus man goes a bit too far in rendering a service to a jailed friend in vet director Abdellatif Abdelhamid’s clever but overextended comedy “Out of Coverage.” Still, pic’s audacious use of broad humor to broach provocative subject matter makes for a welcome contrast with the sober, heavily symbolic Syrian films more often found at international fests.

As pic opens, wiry protag Amer (Fayez Kazak) is on the run between two households, his cell phone ringing nonstop with requests from the two women in his life. Both nagging wife Salma (Fadouwa Souleiman) and sultry Nada (looker Saba Moubarak) are hard at work in their respective kitchens and need him to do the shopping.

At first, Amer’s relationship with Nada isn’t entirely clear. Initial assumption that she’s his second (preferred) wife is gradually undermined as she gets misty-eyed, reminiscing about another man’s favorite foods, and her adorable daughter goes off to color pictures for an absent dad. Yet Amer is a constant presence in their home, collecting the little girl from school, napping on the couch and generally behaving in an intimate fashion.

Turns out Amer is the best friend of Nada’s husband, Zouheir, who’s spent the past 10 years in prison for unspecified (possibly political) reasons; Amer has been looking after her and the child. His obvious pleasure in this task, and time he devotes to it, proves a thorn in the side of jealous Salma, who alternates between threatening to divorce him and begging him to impregnate her with a second child.

Meanwhile, Nada has so come to rely on Amer that having him in her bed seems inevitable, in spite of both parties feeling guilty. When it looks like Zouheir will be released at last, Amer faces a final struggle between his noble intentions and all-too-human feelings.

Pic’s sexual content and depiction of dreaded security services agents mark it as daring by Syrian standards. Less interesting are the comic-relief subplots, including those revolving around a Japanese man (Hiroki Okazaki) who takes Arabic lessons from Amer, and Amer’s adventures as a taxi driver.

Perfs are energetic but broadly drawn in soap-opera fashion. Tech package is serviceable, but nothing special. Title refers to a cell phone message about being out of the coverage area.

Out of Coverage

Syria

Production: A Syrian Cinema Foundation production. Directed, written by Abdellatif Abdelhamid.

Crew: Camera (color), Elzo Rock; editor, Ali Lilane. Reviewed at Dubai Film Festival (competing), Dec. 11, 2007. (Also in Damascus, Cairo film festivals.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With: With: Fayez Kazak, Saba Moubarak, Fadouwa Souleiman, Mohammed Kanouch, Hiroki Okazaki.

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