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Review: Exils

Have you ever felt the urge to spontaneously set out to explore Andalusia without a care in the world? Or head for Africa without a map or compass? The best way to imagine yourself throwing caution to the wind is by immersing yourself in Exils, directed by Tony Gatliff.


By:  Cecilia Bogaard
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Director: Tony Gatliff
Producer: Princes Films
Year: 2004
Nationality: french
Genre: Road movie
Did you know Exils won the prize for best director at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004

There is a time and a place for everything. Travelling without pre-booked hotel rooms, a rented car or a road map can be one of those life changing experiences. It’s an exciting alternative, full of energy and leaves no room for predjudice. It’s a time for letting yourself go. This is exactly what the main characters in Exils decide to do.

This road movie, directed by the North African Tony Gatliff, leads the viewer on an exploration of Andalusia. The camera closely follows a young couple with primitive instincts, during their escape from Paris to their final destination: Algeria.

Zano and Naima are impetuous, angry, melodramatic and sensual en route to their parents’ elusive country. These are two young people motivated by angry outbursts who exude energy with each and every step they take. There are question marks everywhere they go; “I feel like a foreigner everywhere I go,” exclaims Naima. Their doubts plague them all the way to Algeria. Here they come to understand their history, as well as delighting in their discovery of the South.

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The film showcases some of the Algerian author’s best work (as a director, script writer and composer). Son of Andalusian gypsies he manages to explore the contemporary rural landscape like no-one else. Gatiff’s (Algiers 1948) trademark is the colourful way he sets the scene, the vibrant musical score and his uninhibited script, which can both provoke uncontrollable laughter and confusion when issues are left unresolved along the way.

An emotional intensity is sustained throughout the film and accompanies the couple on their long journey, keeping you on the edge of your seat. You are with them when they go through a gypsy campsite, when they pick fruit alongside the illegal immigrants in Almeria and when they enjoy flamenco in La Carbonería in Seville. You are even with them when they walk through the remains of an large-scale outdoor drinking session along the banks of the Guadalquivir river, and during the dramatic scene depicting a Sufi trance which exorcises mental and physical evils.

The film vindicates the journey, with its ups and downs, surprises and routine, all accompanied by a soundtrack of techno beats and flamenco cante jondo. When the camera pans over the Andalusian countryside, for a few seconds it almost seems as if Emir Kusturica has landed in the middle of the open country with his gypsy throng from the Balkans. “It has taken me 43 years to return to Algeria, the place I grew up, and almost four years and 500 miles on the road, by train, car, boat and on foot”, Gatliff points out.

Exils opened the Seville Film Festival in 2004 and won the Palme d’Or for best director at the Cannes Film Festival. Gatliff has nothing to hide and is honest with himself “The film is not based on a simple idea, but on my desire to contemplate my own wounds”.

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