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Brandon Judell

Rome Rather Than You:
A Film to Recommend Highly to Your Enemies


By Brandon Judell

Critics do not like to leave screenings before a film ends.

First of all, the seats are often more comfortable than those offered on the subway, and it's nice to get the weight off your feet in the dark for two hours.

Secondly, it's considered unethical to review a film unless you have seen every tiny bit of it with the exception of the end credits. It's sad but true that most chroniclers of the celluloid industry, if they have a life to live, do not hang around to see who was the Best Boy or the Snake Wrangler.

But then why were so many movie commentators running for the exits while Tariq Teguia's "Rome Rather Than You" was screening at the Museum of Modern Art the other day? After all, they uniformly stayed put for "You, Me and Dupree," truly one of the more gangrenous comedies of the decade.

To put it all in context, this Algerian movie is part of the upcoming New Directors/New Films 2007 (ND/NF) festival that runs from March 21 to April 1 at both MOMA and Lincoln Center. This is the 36th edition of the noted event that only unspools product by directors who have had no more than two films screened in New York.

Now ND/NF has, over the years, spotlighted many notable features that have gone on to garner great acclaim or, if not, they deserved some. In doing so, the fest's curators have dispensed a needed kick toward American distribution or at least critical attention to numerous directors. Some of ND/NF's more memorable offerings include: "Heimat," "Half Nelson," "Man Push Cart," "Junebug," "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills," "Murderball," "Raising Victor Vargas," "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . Spring," "Camp," "Late Marriage," "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," "Shower," "The Fast Runner," "Ratcatcher," "Following," "Sitcom," "Sugarland Express," "The Story of the Weeping Camel," and even "Clerks."

Yes, without ND/NF, where would Steven Spielberg and Kevin Smith be today?

But sprinkled among this grand slate of pictures are films that would make watching paint dry seem like "The Fast and the Furious." Where pace is not a problem, clarity is.

"Rome Rather than You" falls into the latter category. You keep sitting there going either "What?" or "Why?"

What I could comprehend of the plot was that Kamel (Rachid Amrani) is looking for a smuggler named Bosco, who will supply him with a passport so he can leave for any country outside of Algeria. To locate this Bosco, Kamel "borrows" his uncle's car and induces his girlfriend Zina (Samira Kaddour) to come along for the ride.

This trek is supposed to supply us with an eye view of the desolated Algerian landscape, which is both emotionally and physically gutted as seen through a cracked windshield. But unlike in such journeys taken in "Y Tu Mamá También" and "Weekend," the effect here is neutered. You don't care because even with several fine performances, especially Kaddour's, numerous scenes don't build, the editing is hapless, and the screenplay seems never to have reached completion. The very final word of the film is "Idiot!" and you feel Zina is addressing the audience for having hung around. Then the screen goes pitch black.

To be fair before the darkness, there are moments of light, along with references in style to Godard and in text to several authors of note (e.g. D.H. Lawrence). There're even a few choice bon mots about the United States, but all this film-student business often seems a matter of style- or namedropping. Although, sometimes it works.

Kamel: Kafka says the Statue of Liberty is holding a big club.

Friend: If someone says that, his visa has been refused.

There are also songs with lyrics such as "Hashish and wine. Where will it lead me?" Nowhere is the presumed answer for all involved.

According to production notes, seemingly written by the director, "Rome Rather than You" is explained this way: "It's about politics as it is about girls, cigarettes and terrorism, false papers and water cutoffs. All in a disorderly fashion to better understand what the social situation must refuse the characters."

The notes also inform that over 100,000 lives have been lost in a "slow war" going on in Algeria over the last decade.

To make a disgruntled film such as this one or any other in Algeria must be a brave act indeed then. Sadly, some acts of valor don't achieve their desired ends.

Director: Tariq Tequia
Cast: Rachid Amrani, Samira Kaddour, Ahmed Benaïssa, Kader Affak


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