Timgad: Victory at the end of the ball
by Grégory Cavinato - Cinergie
- French director Fabrice Benchaouche brings us a pleasant ode to tolerance and solidarity through a commonplace and universal passion
In Timgad [+see also:
film profile], the debut feature film by French director Fabrice Benchaouche, Jamel (Mounir Margoum) finds himself training eleven 12-year-olds with difficult lives, kids who swear only by Zidane and Thierry Henry, who have no shirts or boots, but dribble with talent. When the father of one of them pulls his son out of the team to sign him up for a rival team, “Batna Real”, Jamel, who’s running low on players, is faced with a dilemma. He dresses young Naïma, the only girl in the village, as a boy, cutting her hair short to complete the illusion. But Jamel and Naïma are forgetting that Islam forbids girls from practising sports. So the next football match rekindles the age-old debate on the place of women in society, especially as Naïma turns out to be a highly gifted player. Meanwhile, Jamel falls in love with the beautiful Djamila, a young widow who’s raising young Mustapha, one of the players, alone. The boy looks unfavourably upon this blossoming love. In the village, Djamila is referred to as "scarface" due to a scar on her face from an attack in which her husband was killed. The mere suggestion of the union between a widow and a foreigner greatly upsets the villagers. Will they eventually manage to “leave the Middle Ages” (in Jamel’s words), to face up to their prejudices and change their archaic mentality, to evolve and live alongside new ideas, forces and influences? The children’s victory, which could benefit the region financially, depends on it.
Objectively speaking, nothing should work in Timgad, the Algerian version of an extremely well-worn genre of film: a family sports comedy centering around children who, against all the odds and thanks to their perseverance, passion and big hearts, propel themselves to a victory that no one expected. The Americans churn films like this out as if off an assembly line. But here, the sporting adventure and passion for football, which hangs back, are just the pretext for painting a picture of the local community, an upbeat, realistic and social comedy that paints a humorous portrait of a handful of colourful adults who have survived a violent terrorist attack that left victims in every family eight years previously.
With very endearing characters, along with a great love story that unfolds with finesse (between Jamel and Djamila, who is played by the stunning Myriem Akheddiou), Timgad is a pleasant surprise, its strengths being its modesty and ability to broach a number of serious subjects in a good childlike and voluntarily naive way. Immigration, integration, gender inequality, women’s rights, religion, the difficult relationship between tradition and modernity, the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of a country with a fractured history…
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(Translated from French)