Review: ‘Perfumes of Algiers’

A prize-winning photographer returns to Algeria after 20 years to get her Islamist brother out of prison in Rachid Benhadj's histrionic "Perfumes of Algiers."

A prize-winning photographer returns to Algeria after 20 years to get her Islamist brother out of prison in Rachid Benhadj’s histrionic “Perfumes of Algiers.” Working with a mixed cast and crew of Algerians and Italians, with Vittorio Storaro providing the overbaked lensing, Benhadj (“Mirka”) strives to comment on the painful tug of war between competing visions of Algeria. Yet the meller exaggerations, atrocious dubbing and unrestrained color correction sabotage any serious appraisal of the message or the vehicle. This trouble-plagued production (Isabelle Adjani and Alessio Boni ankled, among other shakeups) won’t reverse its ill fortunes on the international scene.

In 1998, at the height of Algeria’s problems with jihadis, Karima (Monica Guerritore) gets a call in Paris from her mom (Chafia Boudraa) begging her to return home. Karima felt she had put her past behind her, but sibling affection takes her back to Algiers to discover why her beloved brother Mourad (Adel Djafri) turned terrorist. Once there, she’s forced to confront her demons, especially abusive father Ahmad (Sid Ahmed Agoumi, painfully strident), a symbol of an Algeria that’s gone from noble independence fighters to emasculated bullies. Storaro wildly overdoes the tracking shots.

Perfumes of Algiers

Algeria

Production

A Net Diffusion, Algerian Agency for Cultural Outreach production. Produced by Mustapha Orif. Executive producers, Madani Merabai, Rachid Benhadj. Directed, written by Rachid Benhadj.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Vittorio Storaro; editor, Francesca Bracci; music, Said Bouchelouche; production designer, Amine Debagh; sound, Kamel Mekesser. Reviewed at Abu Dhabi Film Festival (competing), Oct. 17, 2012. Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Monica Guerritore, Adel Djafri, Chafia Boudraa, Sid Ahmed Agoumi, Rym Takoucht, Mohamed Benguettaf, Ahmed Benaissa, Luca Lazzareschi, Youcef Meziani, Adila Bendimered, Souheila Mallem. (French, Arabic dialogue)

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