Rapid changes sparked by urbanization and development in the relatively unknown emirate of Ras Al Khaimah provide the underlying theme of novice helmer Saleh Karama’s “Henna.” Unfortunately, the execution lacks any vitality, subsuming the message under stolid filmmaking. Largely financed through producer-editor Conrad Clark’s Shanghai connections (the British-born Clark helmed Mandarin-language “Soul Carriage,” based on a story by Karama), pic just about works as a glimpse into an unfamiliar culture, but play will likely be limited to the region.
Following her parents’ separation, young Henna (A’aesha Hamad) lives with mom Alia (Ghazal) and grandfather Abu Rashid on the outskirts of the city. Cousin Tarsh (Salem Obaid Saif Al Raihi) comes for a visit from their ancestral village with two camels in tow, leading to a round of tradition-demanded hospitality. When two teenagers puckishly steal the camels, Tarsh and the locals comb the neighborhood. The teens’ excitement over animals that had until recently been commonplace reflects the changing nature of their lives, which Karama underscores with shots of old fishing-net menders and casual comments about encroaching construction. But mediocre digital quality and flat lighting, coupled with uninspired dialogue, hinder involvement.