Wanderers of the DesertUsing the barren desert as an artistic and aesthetic backdrop for a mythical tale of… well, many things (but we’ll get to that in a bit) poet/filmmaker Nacer Khemir’s first film (and the first in his recently completed Desert Trilogy) involves many characters, many stories, and many long shots of the windswept desert. Released in 1984, the subsequent entries in the trilogy (The Dove’s Lost Necklace  and Bab’Aziz) are also set in the desert, leading Khemir to state that “In all of my three movies, the desert is a character in itself.” While the colors are vibrant and there are occasional hints of poeticism in the dialogue, whether or not the film as a whole is coherent to the typical Western viewer is another question entirely.

From the beginning, the audience is thrown into the story with little information or introduction to the world of the film. Following a school teacher’s bus ride to a mysterious new assignment, we enter a small, rather unusual desert town. But for a town with so few residents and such little action, there’s a lot going on, and not all of it is easy to follow. There are the young boys who roam the streets, seeking to break all mirrors in the town in order to build a garden, the man (genie? spirit?) abiding in a well, the old man who has been scouring the hills for treasure for decades, and then, and most importantly, there are the “wanderers.” This group of men seems to be the focus of the film (as they do constitute the film’s title), but in the end little is made of them. When they reach a certain age, they dream of a mythical creature and then wander into the desert to join the roving pack and never return.

The school teacher works to uncover more information and just when it seems that the story is reaching a peak, he disappears and a new story, involving a ship (declared to belong to Sinbad) appears in the desert. As if the teacher’s disappearance weren’t confusing enough, a state officer appears to investigate the ship. Khemir attempts to endow his characters with life and wit, but mostly confusion abounds.

If this film were divided into several short films, perhaps a series of episodes of eerie occurances in a small Middle Eastern town, it may have held more weight. As it stands, it still feels like several short films stuck together rather than one continuous narrative. Those looking to expand their cultural horizons may find something to enjoy here – the landscapes and clothing are interesting enough – but others will be put off by the lack of a cohesive narrative.

Zach’s Rating: C+
Perfect For: Those who prefer style over substance
Stay Away if: Iron Man and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are more your speed

To purchase Wanderers of the Desert, visit Amazon

Be Sociable, Share!