on the banks of the Nile, a monster of clay


Each year in Cannes, in one or the other of these great film landing nets called the sections (in this respect, it really matters little whether they are official or parallel), a plastic splendor is discovered. which, by its irreducible strangeness, makes you your year. We could call this the Lisandro Alonso syndrome, who inaugurated this policy of experimental visas on Cannes soil by sending a UFO from Argentina entitled La Libertad in 2001. This liberality was paid for in cash ten years later, when the Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul snatched the Palme d’Or with Uncle Boonmee, the one who remembers his past livesat the risk of tipping the festival, at least in the eyes of some professionals, into a temple of formalism.

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Two films, in May 2022, once again applied for the now coveted title of radical change of scenery. the sumptuous pacification of Albert Serra, who in fact dominated the competition, and The dam by the Lebanese Ali Cherri – with whom the previous one could pass for an equivocal boulevard piece –, on the side of the Directors’ Fortnight. Its author is a 47-year-old visual artist who lives between his country and France, and works in his work the dialectic between antiquity and the modern world, nature and culture, disaster and reconstruction. So many chimeras that come out of his workshops, in the form of sculptures or videos.

mysterious wound

Recipient in April 2022 of the Silver Lion at the Venice Art Biennale, the artist, for his transition to feature films, installed the action in a brickyard located near the Merowe hydroelectric dam in Sudan. . Between the water of the Nile and the earth of the factory, the film chooses mud as its material of choice, and one of the brickyard workers (Maher El Khair) as its hero. The film pays its debt to Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Mute hero. Mysterious wound that gnaws at him. The beauties of natural shapes that wear themselves out. Rumors of the world creeping into a distant area. Discreet foray into the supernatural.

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The film is played between here and elsewhere. Here, the hard work of the brickyard. The majestic calm of the river. The apparent intangibility of things. There, arriving by the crackling channel of old rusty radios, a revolution is taking place in the capital, Khartoum, where the dictator Omar Al-Bashir must cede power. The film does not say more, it is permissible to inquire. The man turned the country into a hub of Islamism and perpetrated genocide in Darfur. As for the dam built on the Nile with the help of Chinese engineers, it is apparently a social and ecological disaster. Maher, meanwhile, regularly escapes from the factory to build, day after day, a monster of clay, which speaks to him in his nightmares. The creature is obviously a Sudanese golem. In other words, a sandy metaphor of the relationship between the people and power. We know the rest.

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