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.