Algeria’s “dark decade” of the 1990s is portrayed in “Let Them Come.” Adapting co-scenarist Arezki Mellal’s novel, documentarian Salem Brahimi’s first narrative feature is an effectively intimate drama set within sweeping larger events, focusing on a secular family swimming against a riding tide of Islamic fundamentalism. More modest but also more persuasive than the Toronto fest’s higher-profile and similarly themed premiere, “Septembers of Shiraz,” this quietly involving if imperfect tale should score extensive fest travel, with select offshore niche sales possible in various formats.
Not particularly cheerful at the best of times, civil servant Noureddine (Amazigh Kateb) has at least one very good reason to be perpetually broody as pic starts in 1989: His mother (Farida Saboundji), a haranguing, hypochondriac widow who blames him for anything and everything, including her diagnosed “hysterical illnesses.” On her ostensible deathbed, she makes him promise to marry Yasima (Rachida Brakni), a childhood neighbor recently returned to the area.
They do wed, and mom recovers for a time, no doubt revived partly by having a daughter-in-law to vent her myriad disappointments on. But the marriage proves unhappy, presumably largely (though this is one of several intriguing aspects the script leaves unexplored) due to the ever-increasing mob enforcement of Sharia law (not to mention terrorist violence) makes an obstinate refuser like Yasima barely able to go outside, let alone have an active career or social life. Eventually the two divorce, and she takes their young son with her. But in 1994, Noureddine discovers to his horror that Yasima’s fundamentalist father has thrown mother and child out onto the street.
Once he finds and rescues them, the forced reconciliation actually goes better than the first time around, resulting in a second offspring. But despite an ostensibly neutral Army government now in place, religious fanatics continue to make life very dangerous for alleged “infidels” like our protagonists. Much earlier, Noureddine and Yasima had unknowingly crossed paths with a future notorious terrorist when they stepped in to help after some Muslim men late for prayers refused to assist a stranger collapsed in a diabetic coma. That Good Samaritan encounter foreshadows a finale that is aptly suspenseful until it ends on a tragic note that feels too abrupt and unconvincing.
Preceding progress also needn’t have left quite so many gaps in the central figures’ histories. Jumping forward every few years naturally requires some narrative economy, but there’s no reason why Noureddine’s working life, for instance, or Yasmina’s marital discontent should remain so vaguely defined.
Nevertheless, “Let It Come” brings an unsentimental intelligence to this overview of a turbulent period from two average-citizen dissenters’ vantage points. Perfs are strong, as is the clean, unadorned visual presentation.
Pic is dedicated to the estimated 200,000 victims who died amidst the “dark decade’s” climate of fundamentalist terror.
Film Review: 'Let Them Come'
Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 19, 2015. Running time: 95 MIN. (Original language title: “Maintenant Ils Peuvent Venir.”)
(France-Algeria) A KG Productions, AARC and Battam Films production. (World sales: KG Productions, Montreuil.) Produced by Michele Ray-Gavras.
Directed by Salem Brahimi. Screenplay, Arezki Mellal, Brahimi, based on the novel “Maintenant Ils Peuvent Venir” by Mellal. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Leonidas Arvanitis; editor, Yorgos Lamprinos; music, Eric Neveux; art directors, Malek Ouaguennouni, Serge Borgel; sound, Julien Sicart, Jerome Gonthier, Karen Blum.
Amazigh Kateb, Rachida Brakni, Farida Saboundji, Thoraya, Ines Nouri, Ilyane Djebbouri, Mohamed Ali Allalou, Kader Kada, Lounes Tazairt, Abdelkrim Bahloul. (French, Arabic dialogue.)