3˝ out of 5 stars
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l'afrance With a kind of gentle, offbeat style, French-Senegalese director Gomis tells an insightful story that cuts to the centre of one of the biggest issues in Europe at the moment: immigration and the residue of colonialism. The title is a play on words combining Africa and France, and this is precisely where the protagonist finds himself. El Hadj (Mbengue) is a charming young man from Senegal studying in Paris. When he's picked up by the immigration service on a technicality, his world flips. He begins to loose track of who he is or what he wants. His fellow immigrant friends are themselves bundles of confusion and expectations, and as he begins to fall for Myriam (Zingg), a white woman, he really starts to doubt his firm goal to return home to his family and girlfriend, who isn't exactly waiting patiently.

The clever thing about his film is that as El Hadj's situation gets increasingly confusing, Gomis keeps the focus tightly (and shoots mostly in close-up), resisting the temptation to preach about the general immigration crisis and the rise in right-wing politicians in Europe. And by keeping it so internalised, he ends up making very strong statements indeed. Mbengue is terrific at the centre, likeable and young, yet intelligent and thoughful, letting ideas roll around in his mind about Senegal's colonial past and its uneasy present. There's a lot going on here, even if it all feels a bit oblique and haphazard. Relationships are edgy and unpredictable, and the ending is startlingly authentic in its open-handed treatment of such an emotionally charged subject.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.May.02

dir Alain Gomis
scr Alain Gomis, Pierre Schoeller, Marc Wells, Xavier Christiaens, Nathalie Stragier
with Djolof Mbengue, Delphine Zingg, Samir Guesmi, Theophile Moussa Sowie, Bass Dhem, Albert Mendy, Thierno Ndiaye, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Josephine Mboub
release US Jan.02 Sundance; UK 14.Nov.03
01/Senegal 1h30

Home is where the heart is. El Hadj doesn't want to fall in love with Myriam (Mbengue and Zingg).
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© 2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall