Reviewed at AFI screening room, L.A., Oct. 13, 1999. (In AFI/L.A. Film Festival — New Directions.) Running time: 100 MIN.
With: John Littlefield, Marie Ravel, Tsuyu Shimizu, Miho Nikaido, Lyes Salem.
Lugubrious drama of supposed sophisticates undone in their effort to smuggle a truck across the Sahara, “Rendezvous in Samarkand” reaches for existential profundities but is undermined by tyro helmer Tim Bridwell’s weak control of pacing and thesps. Efforts for atmospheric authenticity are commendable; pic was shot chronologically in its far-flung settings. But as adventure tale, mystery or inner quest, it falls considerably short, making for poor commercial prospects on its international travels.
Randall (John Littlefield) is a cocky American with a plan to hustle some wheels into Nigeria via Morocco for a fee, but he makes faulty decisions from the start, including picking up Japanese hitchers Atsuko (Tsuyu Shimizu) and Yumi (Miho Nikaido) outside Paris. Also on this trek is his French g.f., Cecile (Marie Ravel), whose backstory is carelessly inserted into the drama. Revelation of Yumi’s cancer serves only to intro a fate-vs.-free will theme, furthered by fatalistic Arab scout Mohammed (Lyes Salem). Thesps lack the chops to pull off confrontation scenes, but final plot turns provide a belated boost of energy. Pic is distinguished by Moroccan master musician Hassan Hakmoun’s score and Jan Maliszewski’s ultra-crisp lensing in harsh conditions.