El Kalaa

The Citadel

review by Thomas E. Billings

Synopsis: In a small village in rural Algeria, the "village idiot" is madly in love with a married woman. His voyeurism and antics bring shame on his father, who guarantees that his son will be married that same day, or his four wives will be repudiated. An interesting and very witty story, with great sarcastic humor.

Enter the world of El Kalaa, a small village in rural Algeria, where the men and women live in separate (and unequal) worlds. Here polygamy and wife beating are common, and women are owned by men.

The events of the film take place in a single day in El Kalaa, and center around Kaddour, the adopted son of a town merchant. Kaddour is very simple minded, i.e., he's the village idiot (but not a Monty Python style village idiot). Kaddour is madly in love with one of the wives of the town cobbler. He starts his day by waiting outside her home to catch a glimpse of her; however he is discovered and chased away.

The woman's husband reports the event to Kaddour's father, who is very angry. Later, Kaddour visits a soothsayer (who turns out to be very funny) for help in winning the woman he wants by magic. Kaddour must perform certain tasks and acquire certain things, including getting a lock of the woman's hair. After he takes a lock of her hair (by force), an angry mob of men (led by the woman's husband) goes to Kaddour's home, demanding he be punished. Kaddour's father is able to calm the situation, but only by promising that his son will be married off that day or else he will repudiate (divorce) his four wives!

The remainder of the story deals with Kaddour's marriage, and the unique way in which his father fulfills his promise that his son will be married that same day.

Although the film takes place within a cultural framework most of us are not familiar with, it deals with a universal topic: the relationship between men and women. The story is told in an interesting manner, and with very witty dialogue and sarcastic humor. For example, in an argument between some women about their place in society, one woman dryly observes that "A woman's paradise is under a man's foot."

Note that men are not treated very kindly in this film. They are depicted as voyeurs, polygamists, wife beaters, thieves, and just plain silly. Women are depicted as slaves, as property of the men. Male chauvinists probably won't like this film! The interesting thing is the treatment of Kaddour, the main character. Initially he is rather odious: a voyeur and other bad things. As the film progresses, you start feeling sorry for him, until you eventually sympathize with him, as he is, in a certain sense, a victim of the static society he lives in.

This film provides an interesting look into a static, patriarchal society. However, it does so with class and humor, and a very interesting story as well.

Overall evaluation: very good to excellent; worth seeing.

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