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  South Terminal Neutral Territory
Year: 2019
Director: Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche
Stars: Ramzy Bedia, Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Slimane Dazi, Salim Ameur-Zaimeche, Nabil Djedouani, Nacina Guenif-Souilamas, Marie Loustalot, Gregoire Pontecaille, Zahia Rahmani, Nadja Harek, Xavier Mussel, Christian Milia-Dermazin, Djemel Barek, Jacques Nolot
Genre: Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This doctor (Ramzy Bedia) in a North African country has been horrified at the way his nation has been inexorably descending into violence for some time now. Anarchy appears to be around the corner as a the rebels and the government conduct a constant battle for supremacy that has left so many innocents in the crossfire, victims of fanaticism on either side, and a great number have died as a result. What to do when citizens are pulled from their homes by masked men to reckon with perceived slights and crimes that they often have no idea about? Or when checkpoints are set up on the roads where those stopped have no notion if they are official or otherwise, and either side could be robbing them of their possessions? When will this madness end?

Algeria suffered a civil war within recent memory of the making of South Terminal, or Terminal Sud as it was known in French, but director Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche was not interested in being so specific, preferring to depict an internal conflict that could have happened anywhere there was an extreme conflict of interest. With that in mind, he opted to shoot his movie in France, and it certainly looks a lot more French than it does Algerian, which could have brought about some intriguing contemplations on the power bases of extremists around the Mediterranean states, yet came closer to a gimmick in appearance, a gimmick hampered by a vagueness about matters that would have been better off as specifics - and there were plenty of those to tackle.

Nevertheless, by conveying a universality of this experience (which was a sleight of hand politically anyway), the purpose was to prompt the audience to put themselves in the unnamed doctor's shoes and ponder what would have happened had they pissed off some fanatics who may not even be sure themselves what they were battling against, simply wedded to the power that daily death threats and going further will offer them. Bedia had come to prominence in France as one half of a comedian duo, but there were definitely no laughs to be had here as the misery of paranoia arrived from the opening scene and refused to let up. The doctor copes as best he can, which unfortunately meant drinking alcohol with increasing frequency to numb his frayed nerves; naturally, his marriage suffers and falters, but that's not the worst of it.

Much like those South American political thrillers, we can tell here that it's merely a matter of time before the doctor crosses the wrong person, and indeed shortly after the story begins he is receiving crude drawings of coffins in the mail to indicate someone wants him dead. And this is before he even helps a warlord of the rebels, it's because he is indiscriminate about who he treats in the hospital where he works, reasoning that if someone is sick or injured it's up to him to make them better, not ask what their politics are first. When those rebels kidnap him to take him to the warlord, who is in a bad way having been shot, we can tell that the doctor's days are numbered in this country unless he can find a way of making both antagonists see his perfectly sensible viewpoint. Alas, violent nationalists of any stripe don't do "perfectly sensible" and you find yourself as a viewer counting down the minutes until he is dead by their hand - but is there a chance for a happy ending? If it gets a bit Hollywood in the latter stages, its realistic style at least renders it more convincing than it might otherwise have been: intermittently gripping, but no real answers.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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