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An example of the new multiculturalist wave in French cinema, this second feature directed by Karim Dridi follows the travails of Ismael, a young Parisian of Tunisian parentage, as he and his rebellious teenage brother Mouloud adjust to life in Marseilles. Though Dridi, who also wrote the screenplay, disclaims any autobiographical element, his knowing and loving portrayal of the working-class immigrant subculture seems to be drawn from his own experience growing up as the son of a Tunisian father and a French mother. The extended family that takes in the brothers is anchored by their aunt, a resilient woman (Jamila Darwich-Farah) who tries hard to bridge the gap between the generations. While the older folks carry on Arabic customs, the brothers and their cousins, who regard themselves as French, are seduced by the empty thrills of drugs and parties. Even Ismael, a sturdy, conscientious sort, is adrift--confused about his desires for his best pal's North African girlfriend and racked by past guilt. Dridi is quite deft in conveying the ennui and suppressed anger of the disenfranchised and in maintaining (partly through a flavorful score) the alternating rhythms of joy and despair that pervade the brothers' fateful sojourn in the Mediterranean port city. He refrains from sensationalizing the racism faced by Ismael and his Arab kin but is clear about its corrosive effects on the behavior of Mouloud (played by the baby-faced but street-smart Ouassini Embarek), who keeps company with a slimy, paranoid drug dealer (Moussa Maaskri, who gives a performance of De Niro-like intensity). Far less convincing is Dridi's revelation, through a series of flashbacks, of the source of Ismael's guilt. As played by Sami Bouajila, Ismael is a handsome yet disquieting and vaguely unsympathetic protagonist. In a way his persona seems to fit Marseilles--vividly photographed by John Mathieson--a city rich with paradoxes, not the least of which is a proud heritage facing a tentative, possibly dire future. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, December 6, 7:00 and 9:00; Saturday and Sunday, December 7 and 8, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00; and Monday through Thursday, December 9 through 12, 7:00 and 9:00; 773-281-4114.

--Ted Shen


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