Writer and Director: Bassel Ghandour
Like the labyrinthine alleys in the old sector of Amman where the film is shot, the plot of Bassel Ghandour’s The Alleys is complex and twisty. It’s an area, we are told, which thrives on stories, rumour and gossip. It also has a thriving underworld dominated by the bullying Abbas, impressively portrayed by Monzer Rayahnah. When Abbas and his heavies turn up at local bars and hairdressers demanding protection money, the owners meekly pay up.
It’s an aggressively male world, or so the exterior scenes in alleys and strip clubs suggest. But part of the delight of The Alleys is the attention paid to the interior world of the women. Inside homes or at Aseel’s hairdressing salon there are articulate, opinionated women who know the secret power they wield. When Aseel (a splendid Nadira Omran) is blackmailed by video evidence of her daughter Lana having sex with good-looking Ali (Emad Azim), she turns to Abbas to put a stop to things.
The set up may look like Romeo and Juliet. Feisty Lana (Baraka Rahmani ) fearlessly runs off with Ali who promises marriage and a new life. But Ali is not all he seems. His slick international-man-of-business persona is a sham. For a start, his English isn’t very good – we see him mugging up with language tapes in his car. And he’s making a living in the criminal underworld too. When Lana finds out the truth – bag of bank notes can’t surely be Ali’s savings? – she has no hestitation in ditching him.
Meanwhile in the criminals’ headquarters it becomes apparent that Abbas’s second in command, Hanadi, a strong performance by Maisa Abd Elhadi, is another uncompromising woman, well able to take control of the gang when Abbas is invalided out. Indeed the darkly comic theme running through the film is that the meek really will inherit the earth. Kindly Baha, when he’s not in his barber’s shop, tends to his pigeons on his roof terrace. But he too has an important role in putting the world to rights. There are some lovely scenes when he turns hustling on its head, employing his own gang of friends to reinvent history and give a dead gangster a respectable past to cheer the grieving parents.
Rolls of money released from Abbas’s safe have a comic habit of changing hands. Aseel is forced to use a wad of them to pay off her anonymous blackmailer, but when a second demand is made, she decided to set a trap to identify him. There follow satisfying scenes of revenge.
Ghandour directs The Alleys at a cracking pace, refreshing the tropes of gangster movies by, for instance, replacing car chases with mad dashes on foot through the alleys of east Amman. Justin Hamilton’s cinematography introduces us to an unfamiliar cityscape and Nasser Sharaf creates an excellent sound track. It’s a fast, funny film, and one that is ultimately about the power women wield in this superficially patriarchal society.
Signature Entertainment presents The Alleys on Digital Platforms 5th December