January 31, 2023

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‘Animalia’ review: Aliens invade art-house

4 min read

A careful camera takes note of the quiet symmetry of a gated house in a desert location. A fountain flows in the yard. A chandelier hangs in the hallway. Rococo chairs share plush rooms beneath elaborate wooden ceilings with Middle Eastern mosaics—a clash of aesthetic influences that suggests wealth over geography or culture. In the kitchen, Itto (a wonderful Omaima Barid) — beautiful, young, heavily pregnant — chats cheerfully with the staff, relaxed and easygoing. Until, her mother-in-law walks in and a frosty silence settles. Director Sofia Alaoui sets up “Animalia” as an intimate dissection of the hypocrisy and hypocrisy of Morocco’s moneyed classes. But Amin Bohafa’s delicate score, all ominous cello and somber bass, suggests that something deeper and more destabilizing than class divides awaits, just beyond the dark horizon.

Allawi’s award-winning short film “So What If the Goats Die,” beautifully shot by DP No Bach, follows a lonely goat tracking into town to buy fodder on the day the aliens arrive. “Animalia” is an extension of that film, or perhaps more accurately, another story in its shared universe. Here again, the otherworldly threat is vague and undefined, evoked by inexplicable weather phenomena and its psycho-spiritual effects on the human population rather than by Reagan-driven extra-terrestrial invaders. But here, as Itto’s heroine, Alawi, working from her own taut, confidently ambiguous script, can comment on women’s position and wealth in Muslim society and the limits of organized faith, as well as beautifully outline the terrifying experience. In a time of shared global panic, I suddenly feel startlingly alone. Epidemic resonance is hard to ignore.

Itto “married” from a poor rural Berber background into the politically and economically powerful family of her husband Amin (Mehdi Devi). She loves Amin and enjoys the luxury of her new family’s lifestyle, but she quickly notices the snobbish disdain of her disapproving mother-in-law and rages against the need for feminine perfection, when she would rather be a vegetarian than either. Overly upholstered sofa watching videos on her phone and eating candy.

He’s doing just that (for the strain of “It’s Your Thing” – thankfully the only time the otherwise artistically inspired soundtrack gets so heavy on the nose) as he excuses himself from a family trip to the town of Khorigba, when he first realizes that He is home alone when an unprecedented global event occurs. Above the house across the vast desert sky, clouds filled with green thunder gathered. Creatures are behaving strangely, strange fogs are descending, villages are coming to a standstill. Cellphones don’t always work, but during a rare connecting call, a frantic Amin arranges to bring his pregnant wife across the surrounding desert to Khurigba, where she and her family enjoy relative safety behind police-guarded barricades.

But the neighborhood leaves Itto in a small town where he is forced to take refuge in a hotel against the stares of sometimes hostile, sometimes curious, sometimes blank, vaguely tripped-out, possibly alien-possessed idle men. He first befriends a stray dog ​​and then Fouad (Fouad Oghau), a fellow Berber (Itto’s code-switching between French, Arabic and Berber is itself a small essay on cultural survival outside of fish) who is caught trying to steal his delivery bike. him Reluctantly, Fouad agrees to bring Itto to her husband, but not before (or perhaps remembering from her oppressed past) a resourcefulness she never displayed while surrounded by luxury. When the threads that bind you to the social fabric are broken, are you lost or are you free?

Beyond Itto’s temporary transformation, what a meager description of the film’s plot cannot fully convey is the converging mood of dislocation and strangeness that spreads like a virus across the film’s landscape from scene to scene. Like the understated, gorgeously terrifying moment when the dog, chasing after Itto as he drives with Fuad, leaps into the air and crashes into a bird which then takes off. As if the intention of the dog, which had perhaps been captured a little earlier from the natives, has somehow been transferred back to the bird, a scattered chain of connections between living forms marks the transition to a more mystical register in the finale. the third

The changes, which include Ito’s encounter with a young shepherd and his own intermingling with a strange hypnosis-induced fog, will disappoint those who prefer their science fiction to pursue a more dramatic, more concrete, less “we’re all made of stars” logic. . “I can tell you that everyone’s changed,” Etto’s voiceover says as the characters return to their former lives, which they weren’t. But it’s the rare story that can comfortably be interpreted as both a planet-wide spiritual awakening and farewell, and the mysterious yet melodic tone of this closing montage balances those emotions perfectly.

“Everything’s gonna be all right,” says the recurring refrain of “infected” people, with a curious half-smile, and here, the reassurance seems to extend beyond human time, into a future, perhaps, where life goes on, but we don’t. And that’s no bad thing. Allawi’s meditative, bleak but ultimately rather beautiful “Animalia” imagines mankind getting a fleeting glimpse into the interconnectedness of all living things. But it’s a glimpse only given to a species – like ours – that’s on its way out as a parting gift.

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