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KARLOVY VARY 2024 Competition

Review: Xoftex

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- Noaz Deshe makes tragic reality and surreal fantasies overlap in order to portray the frustrating situation at a Greek refugee camp

Review: Xoftex
Abdulrahman Diab in Xoftex

“You hear Europe, and you think it’s human rights,” a young man shouts at his counterpart. There are some laughs, but the crowd watching remains unmoved. Where do these Syrian and Palestinian refugees want to go? All the familiar places: Sweden, France, Switzerland, but preferably not Poland or Bulgaria. Twelve to 15 months is the period that the occupants of the Xoftex refugee camp have to wait in order to get a positive response. This is time they spend rehearsing for asylum interviews, praying or mentally running around in circles.

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It is a gloomy setting that presents itself in Noaz Deshe’s Xoftex [+see also:
trailer
interview: Noaz Deshe
film profile
]
, which has premiered in the Crystal Globe Competition at the 58th Karlovy Vary IFF. Shaky handheld camera work, close-ups and out-of-focus framing dominate the screen. The camp, whose sheer size one can fathom only from aerial shots, is a hellish labyrinth. Some of the men are going crazy. Others, like Nasser (Abdulrahman Diab), his brother Yassin (Osama Hafiry) and their friends, use filmmaking as a creative outlet.

At this point, they are working on a zombie flick. Inspiration comes from the conspiracy that the Greek government is trying to poison them, as well as the realisation that losing track of time while waiting for the call dehumanises them. Amidst this dark satire, Nasser keeps being haunted by his past. This manifests itself in a voice message asking about a sister who is clearly not with them, memories of a boat, and a tree that keeps growing in the tent serving as a prayer room.

Could this tree symbolise life, the passing of time or Nasser’s uprooting? It’s anyone’s guess – probably all of them. Deshe does not shy away from overloading this surrealist exercise with heavy, experimental symbolism. There is no shame in grounding this tale, based on theatre workshops with refugees starting in 2016, in a somewhat dreamed-up diegesis, where the horrors of reality and nightmares merge. Where one can no longer distinguish between Nasser’s movie and his surroundings. It is actually rather refreshing to stray from the beaten track of misery-exploiting dramas, where the story fetishises the agony of its protagonists.

But the picture keeps tipping from a purely stylised language into a somewhat suffocating l’art pour l’art mantra. The conflict bubbling under the surface becomes a pure stream of consciousness, while Nasser keeps calling out the living conditions in the camp. “Camp influencer,” the others mockingly call him. He’s the one amongst them who is upsetting the authorities so much that he will never get a positive asylum outcome. But when the asylum process is interrupted owing to an investigation looking into Nasser’s claims, he becomes the target of the suppressed anger of his peers.

It is hard to pin Xoftex down or put it in a box, as it spends so much time trying to defy these definitions. That, at times, makes it a more frustrating watch than a fascinating one. But Deshe does deserve kudos for trying to do something new with the topic and bringing the voices of those affected into the mix.

Xoftex was produced by Germany’s Arden Film in co-production with France’s The Cup of Tea. The executive producer is White Flux Productions.

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