A worthy subject gets stodgily didactic treatment in "Zabana!," Said Ould-Khelifa's hagiography of Algerian independence fighter Ahmed Zabana.

A worthy subject gets stodgily didactic treatment in “Zabana!,” Said Ould-Khelifa’s hagiography of Algerian independence fighter Ahmed Zabana, whose execution in 1956 sparked a national uprising. Static in emotion and style, the pic is straitjacketed by a desire for historical accuracy, concentrating on the known facts without considering the need to build character. In a year when Algeria celebrates 50 years of independence, it’s unfortunate the country chose this bland biopic as its Oscar submission; international chances outside expat communities are slim to none.

The opening, depicting the 1949 Oran post-office heist that helped fund the rebels, could use some “Rififi”-style oomph in terms of cinematic handling, but the jazzy score isn’t enough to carry the drama. Revolutionary Zabana (Imad Benchenni, grave) is imprisoned following the accidental murder of a French forest ranger (Yves Buchin) and subjected to humiliation and torture, under which he nobly holds up. Uneven acting doesn’t help, but the real culprit is the inert script and excessive use of midlength shots that kill any tension. Frequent mention of diverse Algerian locales feels designed to elicit cheers from the provinces.

Zabana!

Algeria

Production

A Laith Media presentation of a Laith Media, Centre National d'Etudes et de Recherches sur le Mouvement National et la Revolution du 1er Novembre 1954, L'Agence Algerienne pour le Rayonnement Culturel production, with the participation of Groupe Sonatrach. Produced by Yacine Laloui. Co-producers, Djamel Yahiaoui, Mustapha Orif. Directed by Said Ould-Khelifa. Screenplay, Azzedine Mihoubi, Ould-Khelifa.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Marc Koninckx; editor, Jean Dubreuil; music, Michel Wintsch; production designer, Ramdan Kacer; costume designers, Boukhari El Habbel, Nabil Seffouh, Hania Maatki, Mina Kessar; sound (Dolby Digital), Franck Flies, Eric Tisserand; assistant director, Marco Cravero; casting, Fabienne Bichet, Fouad Trifi, Fateh Rabia. Reviewed on DVD, Rome, Jan. 22, 2013. (In 2012 Toronto, Dubai film festivals.) Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Imad Benchenni, Khaled Benaissa, Anne Richard, Mourad Oudjit, Abel Jafri, Nicolas Pignon, Mustapha Ayad, Jeremie Covillaut, Abdelkader Djeriou, Laurent Gernigon, Embarek Menad, Jean Gabriel Nordmann, Frederic Gelard, Daniel San Pedro, Corrado Invernizzi, Brahim Djaballah, Sebastien Tavel, Youssef Saiah, Samir Bouanani, Fadhila Bouhanna, Yves Buchin. (Amazigh, Arabic, French dialogue)

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