The heavy legacy of trauma and suspicion following Algeria’s brutal war of independence hovers over Kamal Dehane’s feature debut “The Suspects,” crushing any character not willing to submit to the fundamentalism and spiraling corruption. Pic’s depiction of thwarted idealism and manipulated paranoia is occasionally hampered by an overabundance of short scenes, but film still makes clear why source author Tahar Djaout’s messages of warning led to his assassination in 1993. Legal wranglings after co-producer Cirta Film was pushed out may hamper distribution prospects, but fest screens are keeping interest warm.
In the early 1990s, attractive shrink Samia (Nadia Kaci, of “Viva Laldjerie”) writes a thesis on traumatic stress disorder among ex-soldiers who fought in Algeria’s recent civil war. Vet M’nouar (Sid Ali Kouiret) is referred to her office after his nightmares become incapacitating, and, despite his skepticism, he agrees to talk. Simple-minded and prone to mistrust, his fondness for the doctor doesn’t preclude his spying on her and her new admirer Mahfoud (Kamal Rouini).
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Samia met Mahfoud, an idealistic inventor and professor, when he rented her house, which is within binocular range of M’nouar’s place. As the powers-that-be begin to use Islamic fundamentalism as a means of control, the unmarried couple’s relationship becomes suspect, and M’nouar reports his findings back to corrupt local politico Skander Brik (Mohamed Adjaimi).
Consequently, Mahfoud hits a brick wall when trying to gather support for a new loom he’s created in the hopes of empowering the peasant population, and Samia’s research, not to mention her refusal to wear a veil, places her under suspicion.
Helmer Dehane, whose previous works include documentaries detailing the trauma of Algeria’s recent battles, skillfully suffuses “The Suspects” with an atmosphere of mistrust, where neighbors spy on each other and religious orthodoxy is manipulated to control dissent.
While good at showing the hypocrisy, Dehane paints some characters in over-broad strokes, and the ending doesn’t deliver the intended emotional wallop. Still, helmer’s got a good eye, and nightmare sequences, seemingly projected on a slightly rippling sheet and then re-shot, give an appropriately unsettled feeling.