Meta-cinema doesn't get more self-referential or recyclable than Merzak Allouache's over-stretched film-within-a-film "Normal." The helmer ("Harragas") shot footage two years ago, which he then shelved; now taking advantage of the Arab Spring, he's hauled out the digital files and made them part of a new story in which a filmmaker with a pic on the shelf gathers his actors together to add scenes incorporating the revolutionary spirit. The results play like a badly dated French New Wave pic, chatty and unfocused, though Doha Tribeca's top prize will pique curiosity among fest programmers.

Meta-cinema doesn’t get more self-referential or recyclable than Merzak Allouache’s over-stretched film-within-a-film “Normal.” The helmer (“Harragas”) shot footage two years ago, which he then shelved; now taking advantage of the Arab Spring, he’s hauled out the digital files and made them part of a new story in which a filmmaker with a pic on the shelf gathers his actors together to add scenes incorporating the revolutionary spirit. The results play like a badly dated French New Wave pic, chatty and unfocused, though Doha Tribeca’s top prize will pique curiosity among fest programmers.

Failing to meaningfully explore the concept behind its title, the pic only touches on the idea via undeveloped discussions of how Algeria’s increasingly Islamicized society has changed what’s “normal.” Fouzi (Nadjib Oulebsir) calls on his actors to finish the film they started two years earlier; his wife, Amina (Adila Bendimerad), would rather be out in the streets with the demonstrators, but Fouzi’s engagement with the Arab revolutions stops at his art. His film, which is Allouache’s interrupted project, is formless, while the new framework feels hastily contrived.

Normal

Algeria-France

Production

A Baya Films presentation of a Baya Films, Kobal Prods. production. (International sales: Doc & Film Intl., Paris.) Produced by Veronique Zerdoun, Yacine Djadi. Directed, written by Merzak Allouache.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Hocine Hadjali; editors, Nadia Ben Rachid, Lucile Sautarel; music, Yahia Bouchaala; production designer, Arezki Larbi. Reviewed at Doha Tribeca Film Festival (competing), Oct. 28, 2011. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Adila Bendimerad, Nouha Mathlouti, Nadjib Oulebsir, Nabil Asli, Mina Lachter, Samir El Hakim, Ahmed Bebaissa. (Arabic, French dialogue)

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