Writer and Director: Bassel Ghandour
While strong on storytelling, Bassel Ghandour’s debut feature isn’t sure whether it’s a comedy or a thriller. Of course some films can be both – like most of the Coen brothers’ work, for instance – but here in The Alleys the balance isn’t right and it’s hard to work out whether the violence that creeps into the second half is meant to shock or provoke laughs. Like the Jordanian alleys in which it’s set, Ghandour’s film has too many twists and turns for its own good.
Ali is a low-level hustler picking up tourists at high-end hotels and then taking them to clubs where alcohol and girls flow in equal measure. The bar prices are extortionate, and the owners give Ali a cut of the profits. It’s an innocent enough scam but Ali’s friends and family think he is working in an office in the city, putting in late hours in order to do business with Americans in their working day.
He has a secret girlfriend, Lana, who lives at home and helps her mother Aseel in the salon she has set up in their front room. Lana’s mother wants her to marry well, and is horrified when she is sent a video on her phone showing Lana and Ali snuggling in bed. He’s not the husband she wants for her daughter. If she doesn’t want the video to go public, Aseel must start paying money.
But instead of succumbing to blackmail, Aseel goes to the local gangster Abbas to ask for his help, and it’s at this point where the story shifts and loses its naturalistic portrayal of life in the labyrinthine alleys and moves perhaps, inadvertently, into spoof territory. Nasser Sharaf’s music, caught between light-hearted crime caper and serious intrigue, doesn’t help either. Most of the actors play it straight, but Nadira Omran as Aseel plays it for all she’s worth, channelling the high camp that was such a feature in early Almodóvar films.
Emad Azmi is a likeable Ali at first, but his character develops in the most improbable of ways. However, it is a surprise to discover that the film isn’t really about him and Lana. Instead it is about Aseel, and the gangster Abbas and his sidekick Hanadi. It is up to Hanadi (a forceful Maisa Abd Elhadi) to keep the criminal gang together when Abbas loses his power to communicate.
The twists are more wearying than surprising, and although the film is almost two hours long, each character is thinly drawn to the extent that we don’t care for anyone, and despite the drama and sudden violence, The Alleys makes for very passive viewing.
The Alleys is screening at the London Film Festival 2021 | Image Contributed.