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Masquerades (Mascarades) (DVD Review)

9 Aug, 2011 By: Billy Gil

Street 8/16/11
Global Film Initiative
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
In Arabic with English subtitles.

This Algerian film deals with the collision of youth and tradition in a small village in the Algerian countryside.

Mounir is the patriarch of a small family that includes his wife, his son, his beautiful but narcoleptic younger sister, Rym, and his younger, movie-obsessed friend, Khliffa. Though Mounir cares greatly for his family, he is, perhaps, a tad overprotective, while Khliffa, knowing this, hasn’t told Mounir that he’s been courting Rym for the past four years.

One day at a local wedding, Mounir’s son and his friends spray a couple of nasty town gossips with water when they hear the ladies badmouthing Mounir and Rym. Enraged at the gossip labeling Rym handicapped and Mounir ineffectual, he drunkenly shouts to the town that he’s found Rym a suitor — a rich, blonde, handsome Austrian (it’s at least semi-believable, as Mounir is a gardener at a four-star hotel).

Understandably angry, the family decides to carry out a plan to make it seem as though Rym turned the man down — until she decides to go along with it, in order to give Khliffa the kick in the pants he needs to talk to Mounir about their courtship. The whole thing snowballs as Mounir, whom townsfolk mostly saw as kind of a joke, suddenly gains respect, and the wedding becomes the town’s cause célèbre.

Mascarades terrifically keeps the comedy of errors moving in Shakespearean tradition while exploring both the poverty and modernization of a place like rural Algeria, subtly in the way Mounir struggles to bring home a microwave to his family, and more bluntly in the way Rym and Mounir’s wife stand up to him, despite his place as the decision-maker of the household. But despite any differences from Western society, Mascarades’ lightness and relatability also show that many familial conflicts translate across borders.

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