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Review: “Abdelinho” by Hicham Ayouch

Review: “Abdelinho” by Hicham Ayouch

Review: "Abdelinho" by Hicham Ayouch

The film in the EVERYBODY LAUGHS… Section is a surreal comedy that takes us from Morocco to Brazil

There is a surreal atmosphere that hovers over Abdelinho from the opening scene, a brief prologue in which people sit immobile at tables in a venue that only retains the western-style facade and is called the ‘Café of Lost Souls’, while an ambulance ‘for the unemployed’ enters the scene to load someone onto a stretcher and leave. One cannot help but think of moments from the cinema of Elia Suleiman or Abderrahmane Sissako. But that suspended time and space (which will return) soon make way for completely different settings and situations that take place in the town of Azemmour in Morocco, and that have the 30 Abdallah as their protagonist.

Employed in an office with the task of sticking stamps on letters, not helped by a colleague who only thinks about sex, Abdallah lives with his parents and four younger sisters and is infatuated with Brazil to the point of obsession: he is known as Abdelinho, speaks Portuguese, wears a wig to feel more Brazilian, and teaches samba to women and men who gather in a square. And, above all, he is in love with Maria, a character in a soap opera that he never misses an episode of. Until the ‘miracle’ happens and he and Maria come into contact, see each other, and talk through the small screen of the television, nullifying the distances.

What was a comedy full of tricks and visual effects, with deliberately over-the-top characters (close to certain Italian B-movie comedies, with a brilliant and perhaps, this time, conscious final reference to Inspector Nico Giraldi played by Tomas Milian with his identical son), becomes, while still maintaining that genre reference, a fairy tale where the impossible can happen and a satire of media charlatanism embodied here by Amr Taleb, a fraudulent preacher who tours with a show lavishly covered by sponsors that Abdelinho will blow up, just as in the soap opera Maria will find the courage to denounce political corruption.

In the role of Amr Taleb is the Palestinian Ali Suliman, one of the best faces of contemporary Arab cinema (among his films are 200 Meters, Huda’s Salon, Farha), who gives life to a character who alternates between euphoria, desperation, and threatening tones in a film that marks the return to directing by Hicham Ayouch almost ten years after his previous feature film, the family drama Fièvres.

Giuseppe Gariazzo

Film critic

Abdelinho will be screened on March 25th, h. 17 at Cineteca Milano Arlecchino

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22 Jan 2024