A simple tale that avoids spareness thanks in part to an ever-present, expansive Algerian landscape, “The Yellow House” is too good-natured for its own good. Divided into two halves, one dealing with a father’s trek to retrieve his dead son’s body and the other his attempt to dispel his wife’s melancholy, pic has a sweet disposition, with a near-childlike quality that works against believability. Still, beautiful images and helmer Amor Hakkar’s gentle, dignified presence as the lead make for an agreeable if rarely affecting journey. Fests on the lookout for North African fare are likely to come knocking.
In the Aures mountains of eastern Algeria, adolescent Alya (Aya Hamdi) is told her brother Belkacem (Nouredine Menasria) has been killed in an accident. Their father Mouloud (Hakkar), a poor farmer, gets on his makeshift tractor — little more than a wide wagon hitched to a motorbike — and heads to the city of Batna to bring the body home.
Everyone he meets helps him along the way, until he gets to the morgue and is told the body still needs processing. Ignoring the injunction, Mouloud brings the body back home, where his wife Fatima (Tounes Ait-Ali) is plunged into debilitating grief.
A pharmacist (Ammar Ghodbane) suggests he paint his home yellow to cheer her up, but neither that nor a new dog bring her out of her funk. Then Mouloud remembers a videotape among his son’s things, which turns out to be a video letter made by Belkacem. Determined to show it to Fatima, he buys a TV and VCR, but how to make it work when he lacks electricity becomes an unanticipated challenge.
Pic’s first half plays like David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” crossed with Hassan Legzouli’s “Testament,” though Hakkar doesn’t position the journey as one of inner discovery. In fact, there’s really no development at all, in any of the characters. Auds can easily accept the almost pathological kindness of nearly everyone Mouloud meets, but it’s hard to buy the idea that this man, an illiterate farmer but no stranger to the nearest town, is so clueless he doesn’t realize appliances run on electricity.
Thesping is unquestionably a problem, though indulgent viewers will do well to overlook the actors’ limitations and concentrate on the majestic landscape, which grounds the proceedings and forms an immutable backdrop to the action. The solidity of the mountains becomes a form of reassurance, offering the promise of life’s continuity despite loss and despair.
Lovely images sustain interest — shots of Mouloud traveling through the night with a flashing yellow light are especially memorable, and capture the melancholy of the situation more acutely than the performers. Though Hakkar and d.p. Nicolas Roche never fully take advantage of the incongruity of the simple peasant farmhouse painted bright yellow, colors are well-balanced and lensing is crisp.