Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Az-Za’ir Ul’Gharib, aka Strange Visitor (Egypt?, 1975)

Love may have its pre-linguistic advantages, but, truly, nothing transcends the language barrier better than guilt and paranoia. Example: Az-Za’ir Ul’Gharib, which, in all its un-subtitled glory, could either be a very compact little psychological noir or the Middle East’s answer to Carnival of Souls.

The film begins with a murder, after which a troubled stranger arrives in a seaside community. A restless young girl who spends most of her time on the beach mending fishing nets takes an interest in the stranger and begins to follow his movements. The stranger begins to relive the events leading up to the murder in fevered flashbacks. There is an affair with a belly dancer, some seedy nightlife, and the victim, a slick underworld type who at one point is seen trying to foist a wad of cash on our protagonist. Eventually the stranger begins to hallucinate, seeing the belly dancer, the victim, and a mysterious constable suddenly appearing and disappearing on the street before him. He begins to sweat ever more profusely, but his shirt is already open as far as it will go (it is 1975). And then the knocks on the door begin.

All I know about Az-Za’ir Ul’Gharib is that it was directed by someone named Muhammad Kamel, who indeed imposes structure and pacing upon the finished product in a most directorly manner. The film overall has a crude elegance that kept me watching despite my intermittent confusion. Also providing a lifeline were the instrumental versions of Western easy listening hits like “A Taste of Honey” that dot the soundtrack -- which, albeit perhaps not suspenseful in the textbook sense, served, along with the claustrophobically minimal cast, to keep things feeling just that little bit off balance.

When Az-Za’ir Ul’Gharib reached its fittingly abrupt conclusion, I was left feeling that I had very little to say about it. Which is to say that I did not, under the present circumstances, necessarily feel that I could recommend it and certainly couldn’t condemn it. However, out of my abiding interest in promoting Middle Eastern pop film, I feel that I should at least make note of it. A translation could reveal it to be a much richer film than it appears on the surface, and, if not, could still leave open the possibility that it is a small triumph of moody minimalism.

No comments: