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VENICE 2022 Giornate degli Autori

Review: The Last Queen


- VENICE 2022: Duo Adila Bendimerad and Damien Ounouri make their feature film debut with a movie looking back on an historic event in 16th century Algeria from a female perspective

Review: The Last Queen
Adila Bendimerad in The Last Queen

It’s into an unseen version of Algeria at the beginning of the fifteen hundreds that The Last Queen [+see also:
interview: Adila Bendimerad, Damien Ou…
interview: Damien Ounouri
film profile
- the first work co-directed by Algerian director-actress Adila Bendimerad and French-Algerian director Damien Ounouri - immerses us, veering between refined courtly life and bloody battles, regal splendour and struggles to the death. Presented in competition at the 19th Giornate degli Autori, unfolding within the 79th Venice Film Festival, it’s an ambitious film - despite it’s low budget – and a very human historical drama, which depicts power struggles and political alliances and betrayals from the viewpoint of a woman and mother: the legendary Queen Zaphira.

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It’s 1516 and Algeria is occupied by the Spanish. Ferocious pirate Aroudj Barbarossa (Dali Benssalah) turns up to fight to help liberate the city, as he previously has with his pirate companions in other parts of the country. Whilst, on the battlefield, we see violence explode and blood spray, in the luxurious surrounds of the palace Zaphira (played by Bendimerad herself), who is wife to King Salim Toumi (Tahar Zaoui), enjoys the company of her friends and cares lovingly for her son. We soon gather than the queen is a passionate and strong-minded woman, even when it comes to claiming her rights as wife to the king, her husband, who deserts the marital bed all too often in order to take care of Algeria’s future.

After finally defeating the invader, Barbarossa strikes a pact of alliance with King Salim, and rises to power. But the savage pirate’s intentions seem to extend much further: “I will take his palace, I will mount his horse, and his wife", he declares to his crew. Indeed, shortly thereafter the king is mysteriously assassinated in his hammam, and Barbarossa immediately asks Zaphita to be his wife. But the beautiful queen breaks the mould and goes against her own family, opposing the destiny that’s written for her and fighting tooth and nail to prevent them from taking her adored son away.

A pulsating portrait of a heroine from the past, a character who’s part-real, part-legend on account of Zaphira’s existence never having been ascertained, The Last Queen boasts sumptuous period costumes and sets, well-choreographed fight sequences (notably the cruel yet sensual physical confrontation between Zaphira and Aroudj) and strong-willed female characters (Imen Noel also deserves a mention as the king’s other wife Chegga, as does Nadia Tereszkiewicz in the role of Astrid “the Scandinavian”), all amidst a backdrop of flesh, blood and bones. It’s a Shakespearian tragedy, of sorts, which is made with passion and sheds fascinating light on a period in Algerian history never before explored in film.

The Last Queen is produced by Algeria’s Taj Intaj alongside French firm Agat Films, in co-production with CADC (the Algerian Centre for Film Development), Birth, Orange Studio, Long Hu Bao International Entertainment, TAICCA (Taiwan Creative Content Agency), Taiwan’s international co-funding programme, and The Red Sea Film Festival Foundation. International sales are steered by The Party Film Sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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