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Harka Film Review — Story of Poverty and Desperation From Tunisia

Adam Bessa gives a raw, strong performance as a man for whom hope is running out

If you choose to see Harka, a melancholic story of poverty and desperation from Tunisia, it’s worth bearing a few things in mind. The first is that the film’s main location, Sidi Bouzid, is where the events of the Arab Spring were set in motion in 2010 after a man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire because of humiliation meted out by the local authorities, according to his family. The second is that the word harka in Tunisian Arabic means both “to burn” and “to emigrate illegally”. Both have a bearing on the sad story of Ali Hamdi (played by Adam Bessa), loosely based on Bouazizi’s.

First met plying his trade in contraband petrol on Sidi Bouzid’s streets, where he fills up motorists’ tanks in perpetually jammed traffic, Ali looks like a loner with sad, sullen eyes. Even when drinking in a bar with friends, he seems alone. It doesn’t help that the film opens with a voiceover by his younger sister, Alyssa (Salima Maatoug), who refers to Ali in the past tense and recounts ominous parables about poisoned water holes. Clearly, things are not going to end well.

The dramatic impetus that sets destruction in motion comes when Alyssa shows up one day to bring Ali bad news: their father has died. When Ali returns to the family home, he learns that his other sister, Sarra (Ikbal Harbi), is working as a maid and their brother Skander (Khaled Brahem) is planning to take a job at a luxury resort for tourists on the coast. Both hope to help pay off debts left by the father on the house, which is about to be repossessed. This sets Ali on a desperate quest for fast cash, but ill-luck greets him at every turn, threatening his dream of emigrating to France.

American director Lotfy Nathan lays on the suffering thickly, and too often the film plays like poverty porn, the kind designed to prey on liberal viewers’ sense of guilt. But French-Italian-Tunisian star Bessa gives a raw, strong performance and the score by Eli Keszler is surprisingly modern, even upbeat, which helps alleviate the sense of inescapable doom.

★★★☆☆ In UK cinemas from May 5 

Source : Financial Times