"Inland" (Gabbla): The Intensity of Absolute Space By Anne de Gasperi

in 65th Venice International Film Festival

by Anne de Gasperi

Every year, same story: will something happen? Yes or no? Is it worth saving the Mostra? And once again a miracle happened in Venice: out of a flat program, apparently unable to kindle enthusiasm, as was the case for the 2008 edition, here comes the unusual film of which nobody knows anything: Inland (Gabbla) by Tariq Teguia, in competition. Quoting the Italian press: “Today we’ve discovered an Algerian film. There might be no connection whatsoever, and yet, while Ermanno Olmi was here to receive the Golden Lion for his career, we’ve perceived an Olmanian touch in the uncommunicative, slow-moving main-character of Gabbla.”

Why not? The film’s atmosphere is haunted by an unknown trouble and this almost silent feature refers as well to other Italian masters: Antonioni, or even Pasolini, due to the mysterious progression of the plot, moving through images both dense and silent as well as through the main part, intuitive, naïve and strong-minded.

Malek is a topographer sent on a survey of a remote area inland, so out of the way that it appears almost forgotten and somewhat withdrawn from political drifts. There is a series of shots showing city youngsters demonstrating against their living conditions. Words, wrath, frustration, violence fill the screen. Then “cut” to the overpowering silence and oversized landscape in which a quiet Malek seems to be headed towards nowhere.

A while later we understand he’s going to install electrical cables on the desert plateau. We adjust to the rhythm and end up charmed by the slow ways, as if moving towards a vanishing point. Malek finally reaches a single metal shack set in the desolate open area. Blood stains inside, intriguing, puzzling. We carefully enter the shack. Coming from a tiny village hidden in the fold of the desert plateau, a man shows up, the only person to speak to. In the middle of the night, Malek wakes up to the sound of explosions. “Not to worry” says the man, “when the cicadas land in the sand, it’s enough to trigger off the buried booby-traps.”

The young topographer starts to realize the double meaning of language and events. Things are beginning to happen, policemen prowling around the shack, the silent darkness is burdened with threat. When Malek discovers a girl refugee hiding in his shack, he finally wants to understand what’s really going on. She’s terrified and exhausted. Who knows where she comes from? She speaks English. The cicadas aren’t the cause of the explosions, it’s all about refugees travelling by night, trying to reach the coast and finding a boat headed for Spain. This new reality fills the air, as does the wind and the invariable sunlight. The young fugitive has no strength to go on, so Malek decides to give up his survey and drive her to the south-west border. A long trek. Far from political discussion, the young man simply witnesses the daily needs and quests of the people as well as the leaders’ arrogant ways of submitting them. It is the best way to try to understand: Now that the struggle for democracy has surpassed the colonial and post colonial conflicts, how and where did this struggle get side-tracked?

At first, the slow rhythm takes you by surprise, as if wanting to give the shots a deeper perspective, sometimes even leaving them soundless, as if the image dissolved into everlasting light, harshness and total bareness. The message is clear. We are rapidly overwhelmed by the intensity of absolute space and the authentic progression accomplished by Malek.

No information on film director Tariq Teguia in Venice, but his cinematographic culture is away from the usual didactic tricks and the easily acquired naturalism. Inland (Gabbla) won the FIPRESCI prize.