movie review: Chouf

Chouf poster

(This review is part of a series related to my professional development project of attending the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.)

(France, 2016)
directed by Karim Dridi

Although Chouf is set in the French city of Marseilles, one can clearly see it has been influenced by the American TV show The Wire. Its characters are all young people of colour living in social housing and set apart from the majority white culture. Interactions with the police and, more frequently, inter-and intra-gang rivalries mean that life expectancy is often tragically short.

The word “Chouf” is an Arabic-influenced slang word for “watchman,” one of the lower rungs of the gang hierarchy. The chouf in question is an intelligent, good-hearted young man named Sofiane (Sofian Khammes), the pride of his family, who has returned from university for summer break. After tragedy strikes, Sofiane chooses not to return to university but instead stays in Marseilles to get to the bottom of the crime. Of course, this necessitates his descent deeper into the criminal world.

The storyline, a tale of betrayal and revenge, is simple–a wise choice on the part of writer/director Karim Dridi. The pacing is tight and the film never lags, an important trait in a movie that attempts to deliver a moral message but really is mostly about excitement and action. My one minor quibble was with a rather quick and slightly implausible character about-face–this is mostly jarring because the rest of the movie is so naturalistic, and up to this point the characters were very believable. Sofian Khammes in particular is excellent as Sofiane, but the rest of the cast is very good also, including Foued Nabba who plays the very large and intimidating Reda. I was amazed to discover that most of them had very little (or no) previous acting experience. I attended the film’s premiere at Cannes and it was very charming to see the young actors in attendance because they were obviously so excited and proud to be there. (There was a lot of selfie-taking.)

Overall I think this is a worthwhile watch for anyone who enjoyed The Wire.

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