"Tala Hadid's research into the exile of an Iraqi man strives to define displacement in modern society, while laying out the basis for a future storytelling framework."
Film Lab Palestine
"Tala Hadid's research into the exile of an Iraqi man strives to define displacement in modern society, while laying out the basis for a future storytelling framework."
Film Lab Palestine
TV5 interview (National French televsion)
Walker Art Center, USA
Framework Now Film Journal, USA
"Remarkable, perceptive, brilliantly executed film. Must see."
Milan Film Network, Italy
Review by Maurizio Porro, chief film and arts critic for Corriere della Sera
"A touch of the folkloric, the foregrounding of social ills, laws of territory, the phenomenology of both material and moral misery (this we do see), and a strictly Levi-Straussian anthropological form of analysis, in sum everything you would expect to see in a Moroccan/French production (plus Qatar and the UK) is completely avoided by Tala Hadid, a filmmaker of extreme modernity, of a composure that is at once serene and melancholy. Do we dare? Yes we do. This is Antonioni meets the Sheltering Sky, a grand mosaic of the interior states of various human subjects and of the inscrutable journeys within both mind and heart. The story, of crossed destinies- at the center a poor young child sold, abused, kidnapped and who is almost never at play- is told with an almost cruel absence of rhetorical flourish that starkly highlights trajectories that are both geographic and historical.
The resigned, but intelligent eyes of a man who could be the hero, a Moroccan/Iraqi writer who needs to be saved (he searches for a lost brother who has probably joined militant Islamists) illuminate a film that has no conclusion to propose: everyone dies and lives alone.
The actors in expressive symphony in front of a machine of images of the utmost contemporaneity are peeled down by a cinematographic hand that then caresses them to express solitude of the sort not much seen since the 1960s. It is no coincidence that the author shows us, on a cracked, peeling wall, a photograph of Albert Camus next to a portrait of Marx. Because everyone is in flight, the plague exists but cannot be seen and everyone is a stranger, even unto to themselves."
Il Manifesto (main communist newspaper), Italy
"A refined director with traits that border on video-art".
Sentieri Selvaggi, Italy
Al Bayane, Morocco
Review by Mohammed Bakrim
"The Narrow Frame of Midnight is not linear. It is indeed the antithesis of a dominant cinema since the narrative it provides is also a visual reflection on Cinema, a questioning of classical narrative form. In brief, this is a cinema of thought that produces intellectual concepts from visual concepts ..."
"In the words of Aime Cesaire: 'no race holds the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of strength, and there is a place for all at the rendezvous of victory'. In Morocco, and indeed in the countries of the Periphery, we have to develop our many rich and numerous narratives and histories, we must save, resurrect and reinvent our myths so as to be able to find news ways to survive in these times.
Corriere della Sera, Italy
"It is on this long journey across the Arab world (from North Africa to Iraq) that lies the meaning of this film, a journey that becomes a quest, on the part of Zacaria, for others and for oneself (as in all road movies that one respects, and this principle also holds for the innocent Aicha), and therefore this journey transforms into a voyage across the Middle East: from wars to dictatorships, from Western invasions to cultural misunderstandings between peoples etc. The individual narratives in the film are reflected back onto collective experience and vice versa, in a narrative universe where every character is at the crossroads of political, social and cultural history, while at the same time suspended between the necessity of memory (for the past holds certain answers and secrets), the uncertainty of the present and the spiral of a possible future."
"Moroccan Cinema: La Nuit Entr'ouverte best film of 2014"
"Tala Hadid's feature film triumphs in Tangiers"
"The film Itar-el-Layl (The Narrow Frame of Midnight), first feature film by Tala Hadid, of Moroccan and Iraqi heritage, wins the Grand Prize at the 16th Festival Nazionale del Cinema di Tangeri, which ended on the 28th February. Hadid's film also won the Cinema Critics' Prize."
African Women in Film
Canal Plus interview (France) Marie-Josée Croze & Laurent Weil
Canal Plus interview (France) Danny Glover & Laurent Weil
Translation: Tala Hadid's Time-image
The film passed like a UFO in the serene sky of the Marrakech film festival, with an English title, and a timid Arabic translation. The Narrow Frame of Midnight (Itar el-Layl), has a very particular narrative structure ... which certainly alienated some viewers. This first feature film by Tala Hadid is nevertheless a film of our time. It is the most grounded in political actuality, for does it not address the departure of young people to join the wars of the Middle East? But it does so by means of Cinema, through a non-linear narrative; a fragmented and polyphonic narrative. An ensemble film that tells of the complexity of the world; we find the themes and characters dear to Hadid: the quest, the accompanying long takes, the image of childhood ... to access this UFO, one has to certainly go through Gilles Deleuze: Tala Hadid opposes the dominant structure of the Movement-image with the Time-image, with: "characters caught in optical and sound situations, condemned to wander or roam."
Le Journal du Dimanche
The Wire Wool
I’d forgotten what my reasons for choosing to see 'The Narrow Frame of Midnight’ were, possibly because it looked a bit miserable? Anyways, I wasn’t really expecting anything and it turned out to be one of the best films of the festival. This concerns Aicha, a young girl being traffiked for probably horrible purposes, and Zacaria, who liberates her from her captors. He’s got his own stuff going on, namely trying to find his missing brother, which will take him to Iraq, a country he is in exile of. The parallels between the two are mostly down to their respective abilities to move on from tragedy, but this is one of those films where the characters are effortlessly conveyed from the first scene - you immediately know who these people are, their melancholy, their drive. It reminded me of a Claire Denis film, which is the highest possible praise, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on - it’s there in Tala Hadid’s immaculate sense of space and pacing, and the visually gorgeous reveries the various characters find themselves in. It works just as well as a tense thriller on its own too, but the real meat here is in the meditation on how to face the past, how to mourn, how to determine to go forward, making it not just a powerful story for this moment in time in the middle east but for the rest of the world too.
The F Word
Il Foglietto della Ricerca
"In the most radical section of Cinema d'oggi, we found films of great aesthetic taste like The Narrow Frame of Midnight by Tala Hadid and the marvelous Angels of Revolution by Alexsej Fedorchencko..."
"I don't know if women are slaves in the Middle East, but they know how to make beautiful films!"
Sentierri Selvaggi newspaper (Italy)
ROME FILM FESTIVAL 2014 - Meeting with Tala Hadid and the cast of The Narrow Frame of Midnight
The eclectic Tala Hadid - who made her directorial debut with the documentary Sacred Poet on Pier Paolo Pasolini, recently was awarded the Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant for the documentary House in the Fields - came to Rome to present her latest work The Narrow Frame of Midnight (Itar-El-Layl). She wanted to explore time in the image and was able to do this collaborating with Alexander Burov, director of photography who was able to understand deeply the meaning of the image coming as he does from the Eastern european cinema tradition, which as the director acknowledged possesses a sense of time that is very different from our own. Long sequence shots/takes which were weaved together by the editor Joëlle Hache, seek to describe individuals seeking a place, but who do not belong to any specific territory, existing in passage and in liminal spaces.
How did you prepare scenes from a visual point of view?
Tala Hadid: I wanted to explore time in the image and to do this I structured scenes (in the script) from floor plans to create a kind of map of space.
Why did you choose Alexander Burov as a cinematographer?
Tala Hadid: Everything started in the script, which was a draft or blueprint of what would be seen in the picture, and then meticulously prepared with Burov, whom I chose a long time ago, with great love for Hungarian, Russian cinema ... in which he worked as a director of photography. The photograph of Burov is amazing, he is able to understand deeply the meaning of the image. I also wanted to go toward the eastern school, that has a concept of time (in cinema) that is very different from our own, that understands the time image. And allows you time to interpret and understand, like the reading of a geographic map, on which lines can always be redrawn and are constantly shifting.
Did the Nouvelle Vague inspire you in some way?
Tala Hadid: I do not know. I really like the films of that era. What I did do was work with an amazing and talented editor, Joëlle Hache. And with so many sequence shots/long takes, we were trying to give a certain rhythm, always wrestling with time.
What were you looking for when you chose the young star Fedwa Boujouane?
Tala Hadid: I originally chose another girl with whom I made a documentary four years ago. But her family pulled out at the last moment, leaving the role vacant. In the short time remaining before the shoot, I went out onto the streets in search of a face that would strike me. I saw Fedwa and decided she would be my heroine. She's amazing, a "Scugnizza" as they say in Italian, she goes to school, but is also on the street. She's very tough, hard, a very special person.
How did you approach the villain?
Hocine Choutri: The number of parts available that allow an actor to express a non-specific identity is uncommon in Arab cinema. This film comes, among other places, from an Arab area, but it contains a very important aspect: the characters are not integrated and do not try to integrate. In other roles where territory and identity are increasingly well established I always had the impression of doing the opposite. My "bad" Algerian character allowed me some form of revenge against previous cliched interpretations. Interpreting it I thought it came from an environment where it is normal to behave in a certain way, but it might be interesting to see how (when the young orphan, Aïcha is hurt by him) he feels that the situation gets out of hand and his wickedness becomes weakness.
Can you tell us more about the way in which the characters have evolved?
Tala Hadid: The characters came into being before the script, they were ghosts that existed already, especially Zacaria and Aïcha. Then the story began to grow. Today I can say that the film is a map, with its well-defined lines, but things are changing and changing around it and therefore so changes the map and lines of the film. The scenes which depend on the social and historical context of Iraq, for example, can be interpreted in different ways.
Where does the good synergy between women who have played different roles in The Narrow Frame of Midnight come from?
Tala Hadid: There was an interesting productive energy. It is important as women in the movie industry to support other women, directors, producers. I think it is not a coincidence that my producers and my editor were women.
Wake Up News
The second section of the capital's festival is the most interesting part of the event. On the agenda today The lies of the victors of Christoph Hochhäusler and The Narrow Frame of Midnight by Tala Hadid
In the ninth edition of the International Film Festival of Rome, the section Cinema d'oggi offers, for the moment, the most interesting work for anyone who does not want to give in to the easy sloppiness of the box office but yet not venture too far into the fertile fields of experimental cinephile avant-garde. The second day of the festival of the Capitoline, in fact, confirms the existence of a chance to escape from popular apathy thanks to the assured contemporary films of significant impact (heterogeneously) such as The lies of the victors by the German ChristophHochhäusler and The Narrow Frame of Midnight by Tala Hadid, already known internationally as a photographer and visual artist.
WE ARE ALL FOREIGNERS - The Narrow Frame of Midnight by Tala Hadid (score: 7), is yet another great movie proposed by the Cinema d'oggi section on October 17. In a binary language completely different from those expressed earlier, Hadid offers her fine touch primarily spiritual in its construction of coinciding lives forever poised between guilt inflicted by external conditions and a perception of total inward dissolution.
Aicha is a Moroccan girl taken by force by a pair of criminals with the intent of reselling her in France. Along the way, however, the three cross paths with Zacaria (Khalid Abdalla), a writer of mixed origin, Moroccan-Iraqi, who has left everything behind to go in search of his brother who has perhaps died after being compelled by force to join a group of violent revolutionaries. He meets by chance, after a car breakdown, the two criminals who ask for a lift to a house to spend the night and then get back on the road the next day. Zacaria agrees and in return gets a free night's board. But Aicha manages to vanish from the two thugs and convinces him to take her with him. He takes her with him and then leaves her in the care of Judith (Marie-Josée Croze), his ex-girlfriend who has decided to live in a house isolated from the rest of the world and surviving only on art in search of a missing spiritual depth. But in no less time the couple is already on the trail of the little one and Zacaria has accepted to confront a harsh reality made of horror and a sense of inner loss.
From Morocco to Istanbul and Baghdad, no one appears to be at home and no one has any foothold, territorial or existential. Escape from both physical and psychological, disorientation is impossible, and a complete lack of connection with being in the world are all factors that define a discourse that goes far deeper than a mere sociological treatise of a philosophical-anthropological base (the sets, at times, are full of particular books and framed pictures asking, loudly but in vain, to be opened, an irrepressible reflection via images and feelings on the loss of a very precise conception of humanity that in a Middle Eastern context leads to an amplified emotional level.
Two notes on the first day: apart from the start with the Genovesi, which does not deserve comment, and logistical projection problems, Jean Pierre Jeunet's film The extraordinary journey of TSSpivet has garnered critical acclaim as well as The Narrow Frame of Midnight by Tala Hadid, a visionary political drama shot and edited in the nouvelle vague style.
‘The Narrow Frame of Midnight’ is the first feature from Iraqi-Moroccan director Tala Hadid. She directed the award-winning short ‘Your Dark Hair’, ‘Ihsan’ and the acclaimed documentary ‘Sacred Poet’ on Pier Paolo Pasolini. Tala’s move to narrative feature filmmaking is not without poetry – her pacing and visuals, even the actions of her characters, all encompass a particular poetic quality that opens the viewer to reflection on life within the context of the film and beyond.
The Narrow Frame of Midnight by Moroccan film director and photographer Tala Hadid, presented at the ninth edition of the International Film Festival of Rome, in the Cinema d'Oggi competition, tells the intersecting stories of the lives of the beautiful Aicha, an orphan kidnapped by a pair of wretched criminals to be sold to a wealthy foreigner outside of the country, and of Zacaria, a young Moroccan/Iraqi man.
A car failure of the kidnappers makes the routes of the two protagonists meet and Aicha escapes with the help of Zacaria. They cover their tracks, at least for a short period of time. Zacaria, who has returned to his homeland to search for his brother, who probably went to fight with a group of revolutionaries in Iraq, leaves the tender and sweet Aicha in the care of his ex-wife Judith, who lives in a safe place, and resumes his difficult journey. Tala Hadid makes a film of great emotional impact. From the first moments with the purity and simplicity of the characters, shown with their difficulties, with their weaknesses, with their fears, they win a place in the hearts of the audience. This is transcended further with great delicacy with the misfortunes of Aicha and Zacaria. And despite the seriousness of the situation, which transmits pain and loneliness, there is an increasingly evanescent feeling of hope, a desire that remains for them to write a different future, away from the evil which cannot be escaped. The Narrow Frame of Midnight is a film that seeks but never in an exaggerated way, a genuine and spontaneous film such as the characters that animate it, and this is the strong point of this work. A beautifully photographed film with capable and valid actors make this Moroccan production a film of good quality.
The Narrow Frame of Midnight involves the viewer directly thanks to a mis-en-scene directed by leveraging the power of explicit images with a view of a malaise, a solitude, and then a force (especially in the small Aicha) that will be told in its invisible folds. The interior instability of the characters is a clear reflection of the chaos of the cities crossed by Aicha and Zacaria to the open landscape around the house and abyss in which hides Judith, until the last scenes that give the film an open ending.
Tala Hadid, London artist and daughter of an exiled Iraqi and a Moroccan, goes back to her roots to recount the disaster of the land of her ancestors. The places and people caught by her eye come from a violent tired world, a universe where every feeling, every test of courage, every tear is full of a desperate resignation.
From Morocco to Turkey, and then to Baghdad. It's a road paved by blood and dust that is undertaken by Aicha and Zacaria. The little orphan with no family finds herself at the mercy of a couple of criminals, willing to sell her in Europe. Zacaria is an Iraqi writer, marked by a life of pain and in search of the ghost of a deceased brother, perhaps a victim of revolutionary ideas. Their meeting, incidental, only lasts a few hours, but it will affect them, tying them to each other forever. The escape and salvation of Aicha and the descent of Zacaria, are both trajectories of human discomfort. Their faces unperturbed, stoical in the bearing of the burden of a past full of pain and a future of uncertainty are the same faces of the people left to fend for themselves, families forced to live in unbearable situations. With a sensitivity in the balance between a western eye and an urgency of those personally involved, Hadid tries to put her undeniable visual talent to the service of her story. The places photographed by the director (incredibly similar to those in southern Italy) become scenes of tales of Death, where every breath is a continuous regret of lost lives, and a happiness lost and unrepeatable. Even Aicha's laughter at the end, finally free from her captors, can only increase our sense of deep melancholy. As if to underline, once again, the inconsistency of brief moments of light and hope.
Art apart of Culture
The Narrow Frame of Midnight (Franco-Anglo-Moroccan film) may seem like the song of one of those songs of pain in Arabic music is that always unheeded and never played by us. Not only does this music not come close to our own melodic sound, but also the words, translated in the subtitles of the projection at the Festival Internazionale del Film di Roma, are far away from our feelings as Europeans or Westerners.
What did Tala Hadid want to communicate, this feisty and assured director, the daughter of an Iraqi exile and a Moroccan, with her return home? For reporters after the screening it was a story of the abduction of children in areas where disorder, chaos and poverty reign. And surely the political substrata of the film shows that there is not a country (Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Kurdistan and Iraq) in which the human being is not at the minimum levels of survival. Where dictatorships, civil wars, torture, destruction and death afflict the conscience, and make life miserable. Where the only solution for the future becomes that of an illegal or legal immigration, now openly opposed by European countries (as we hear in one of the scenes in a television broadcast).
But the writer/director, through her personal identification with the main performer Zacaria (Khalid Abdalla), a writer from the West who has come back to his roots and childhood in Iraq and Morocco, wants much more than simply to investigate the pain of the Arab people today. Now that the knowledge of the catastrophic ruins of many ancient civilizations from Africa to the Middle East ( Algeria, Syria, Iraq), is digested by local intellectuals, although exiles, and not always recognized by writers and filmmakers from totally unrelated areas . How can, in fact, the camera of a Frenchman, an Englishman, an American, feel the melancholy or loneliness or longing of a true son of the land, now brutalized by giant cement and television satellites or traditional houses dilapidated or destroyed by time and war?
The story, a homecoming, in search of a rebel fighter brother, through pain ridden countries affected by natural disasters (from Morocco to Iraq), is intermingled with the story of an escape of a little seven years old girl, Aicha (Fedwa Boujowane), from sexual slavery, though this subplot remains only in the background. The film combines instead contrasting colors, an earthly paradise of memories of unspoiled nature expressed in details, of wind that animates things, rain that plays a soft music, a tragic uninhabitable desert. And the other bad characters (Hocine Choutri), resentful, unsympathetic or slothful feed the sadness that the main character drags like a cross toward the Calvary, for a suffering and resigned humanity. Overwhelmed, he finds annihilation, in the scenes of mothers in a slaughterhouse filled with the dead in their pink shrouds, men and women tortured, without name and places filled with women dressed completely in black, as an additional message of death for the near future.
What remains outside of this oppressive pessimism is the scene of children playing blind man's buff in a large meadow, which sees the small fugitive Aicha, finally laughing amidst all that surrounds her.
Is this the possible future?
Not surprisingly, the debut feature film of the Tala Hadid - a painter and film director born in London to parents of Moroccan and Iraqi origin - is almost a sort of experimental film, in which the author has seen fit to exercise her cinephile influences.
In The Narrow Frame of Midnight (Itar-El-Layl), presented at the International Film Festival of Rome in 2014 in the competitive section of Cinema d'Oggi, the author mixes with a certain mastery organic periods between films and their authors united by a unique sense of artistic beauty. I refer especially to the segment that sees the small Aicha, star of the film together Zacaria; who, after a childhood marked by the untimely death of her mother and the consequent kidnapping by a pimp and violent drug addict, finally arrive in an oasis of peace and serenity, accompanied by Zacaria after various vicissitudes. We are in an environment very different from the traditional images of Morocco, which are mainly of desert territories. Here, the lush green reigns supreme and Hadid repeatedly emphasize this empathic link between human beings and nature through evocative images and monologues, one cannot help but think of the philosophical and reflective work of Terrence Malick. On the other hand, when Zacaria is separated from the child to seek, as a result of a solemn promise made to his sister in-law, his brother who has gone to Iraq to fight, the film takes on the formal styles so dear to Michelangelo Antonioni. A search both physical and moral, characteristic not only in fiction but especially in ethics and aesthetics, and of those of reportage. Arriving in Baghdad Zacaria moves through a country, once the cradle of civilization, which now breathes only the air of death, perfectly symbolized both by the blood in the hospitals and the arrival of widows in black in the vast square of the Iraqi capital, metaphorically drowning out the pain of the exhausted Zacaria. Hard to imagine a more "Antonioni" whole.
Critics might argue that precisely from the onset Tala Hadid's work might seem like the thesis of a student film, rather than a real narrative work of fiction or otherwise; In our opinion, however, the director manages to weave a lot of knowledge on different levels, with the most harsh in the relationship between Aicha and her "father", very close to the socio-anthropology masterfully analyzed by our own Neo-realists many decades ago. Evident, it is true, are some defects of the classical operatic debut: an excessive desire to demonstrate talent, some risk of aestheticism a little 'end in and of itself and a script that does not always live up to expectations, especially in the role of the over the top pimp. But there is also an asset, among the many merits of the film, the presence of Fedwa Boujouane, the small (non) actress who plays Aicha. A true miracle of spontaneity able to conquer the viewer at first glance, with a face that features early adulthood and tells a story of pure suffering mixed with an uncontrollable desire to regain what Fate has since taken from her. In practice, another film to be made, in the prologue and epilogue of the film that is left entirely to the imagination of the viewer.
We are however able to affirm a positive opinion on The Narrow Frame of Midnight.
With a Moroccan mother and an Iraqi father, Tala Hadid was born in London and Studied photography and visual art; just read her biography to understand That her origins are reflected in this Inevitably her first feature film, of Which she is director and screenwriter.
As the director, the protagonist of the film, Zacaria (Khalid Abdalla) was born in Britain and is half Iraqi and half Moroccan; Zacaria hears the desperate call for help of the wife of His Brother Yousef, Who has run away leaving her alone with two sons. From an arid and endless periphery Zacaria sets out to find his brother and stumbles upon an Algerian pimp, Abbas, (Hocine Choutri) who together with his lover is finalizing a big deal: he has just "bought" a little girl Aicha (Fedwa Boujouane) -whom he must accompany to wealthy buyers in Europe. After a brief stop in Casablanca, Zacaria continues the journey with Aicha, and finds her safe accommodation in Ifrane with Judith (Marie Josee Croze), an art teacher who lives in a big house in the middle of a green forest; from Casablanca, where he met a fellow comrade of his Brother Yousef, Zacaria departs for Istanbul and then reaches the turkish-Iraqi border in Kurdish territory and from there heads to Baghdad; meanwhile Aicha is again kidnapped by her tormentor, but manages to escape and return to the light-heartedness of Ifrane.
What apparently is built like a road movie is in fact a journey in search of something much deeper; The film is told through dialogue and the fragmented memories of the characters and through the nuances of their gestures and words. Slowly through obstacles and the difficulties of painful memories, the characters sink their hands into their souls to come to terms with the past. And though the present is grueling, exhausting and impossible, as is to live or to think about the future, Zacaria, as Judith, who have shared part of their lives together as well as the loss of a child, have no choice but to go on.
The urge to excavate and search leads Zacaria to travel to the ends of the "arabic speaking" Maghreb and Middle east, where everyone speaks the same language but understands sometimes with difficulty; where the interventions of the West throws salt in the wounds of internal conflicts; where regimes and civil wars reap victims upon victims every day; the historical time of the movie is unknown, the Iraq where Zacaria arrives could be post-Saddam Iraq, or that of our days, it does not matter. His is a desperate search, among the Living and among the Dead, in the morgues where the attendants wash away blood, and the souls of the dead lie on the ground waiting to be recognized by relatives. The search becomes heartbreaking; Zacaria immersed in the papers of Yousef, tries to understand what drove him to fight in the revolution, and to wonder whether perhaps he was right to try to live his life quietly, or to be like his brother, and to jump into the fray. What emerges are memories of the past represented by one eloquent recurring scene, When as children Yousef takes off his clothes and jumps into a lake to swim, while Zacaria stands watching. Judith feels the same need as Zacaria; also a foreigner far from her native country, France, she has chosen to live isolated from the rest of the world; hers is a mental journey toward the still-open wounds of her past, a lost son, in an unspecified time, a drama lived together with Zacaria. Aicha is a balm for her wounds, that are ready to tear open again when the girl disappears for the second time.
Aicha is an orphan and looking for someone to take care of her; and does not hesitate to ask for help from Zacaria or to become attached to Judith; and even to escape for a second time, and slip on the first bus to Ifrane to return to Judith. Hers is a journey into the future, full of optimism and hope, represented so precisely in the penultimate scene of the film, when she stops to play with some children, care-free in the middle of fields.
The moods of the characters are sketched by the photography of Alexander Burov alternating, dry and essential, almost documentary-like in the scenes of the long path of Zacaria in search of his Brother; to become light in the scenes of common life with Judith and the carefree Aicha; until the grim scenes and those of childhood memories, the ones of the two brothers.
Along the path of torment of the protagonist is a prostitute with whom-he spends the night in Casablanca; the woman feels his mood and warns him: if one goes in search of something, one is likely to get lost; and there is danger of losing one's life in the process. The film gives the viewer ninety minutes, slow and sometimes endless, as is the endless torment of Zacaria and Judith perpetually clinging to the past.
Each of us is the result of a history, a crossroads of feelings and of personal and political events whether dark or painful; and one can choose to mourn the dead, to isolate oneself from the world or to look ahead, as does Aicha, who despite her young age already has a heavy baggage from life. If one looks back one can end up staying stuck in a no-man's land, full of strangers and of the lost.
'Narrow Frame of Midnight" a tough arab tale at Rome Film festival"
A meeting of solitudes in travel
Photographer and director, Tala Hadid, born in London from a Moroccan mother and Iraqi father, made her debut as a director with a documentary on Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sacred Poet. Appreciated as an artist all over the world for her work, exhibited in prestigious museums such as MoMa in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and at the Photographers' Gallery in London. Presented as a world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and also in the ninth edition of the International Film Festival of Rome, in the Cinema d'oggi competition, The Narrow Frame of Midnight is a film that tells the story of a long journey, from Morocco, Turkey, to Iraq.
Aicha and Zacaria, lost for various reasons, come together in this long journey in an infinite and desperate search for people who will never be found and of an inner peace torn apart by the past and marked by an ever-difficult present.
Aicha is a Moroccan girl, alone in the world, who has unfortunately been taken by two criminals, Abbas and Nadia, who want to make a fortune by selling her in Europe. By chance they meet Zacaria, a writer of the same origins as the director, who gives up his life to devote himself to the endless search for a brother who has left his wife and children, disappearing for political and religious reasons that might have led him to a violent and tortured end . Zacaria becomes her savior, and takes her with him and leaves her in the safety of the home of Judith, a french teacher, his x-wife. Aicha and Zacaria will never meet again in the film, but the ghost of the man continues to be present in the thoughts and dreams of Judith; as flashbacks of what happened between them, another life marked by pain and desperation, perhaps for a child who is no more.
There are two endless searches of the two protagonists, while Aicha goes toward a better life, Zacaria, instead embarks on an ever more difficult path, to a destiny with no hope and no future, where he finds only death and despair. The strength and determination of the child, stand opposed to the weakness and desperation of the adults that surround her.
The director puts all her visual artistry into the scenes, constructing perfect shots and often still as photographs, dosed with moderate light and emphasizing the most significant moments with color. The gray and the dust of the barren earth of places of massacre, robbed of identity; the green of the forest and expanses of the fields in Morocco that envelop the moments of hope and reflection; the blood, red stains of the slaughterhouses of barbarism; black tunics/chadors full of sorrow and heaviness that plague hearts devoid of hope.
The photography - by Alexander Burov, habitual collaborator of Sokurov - is one of the strengths of this feature that points to the surrounding landscapes, and the lack of dialogue and music, almost non-existent, amplify the cries of pain of the continuing massacres of the population.
At the end of the film comes the most beautiful shot, a hard and truthful image that leaves you impressed with the meaning of life and culture in an Arab country.
Itar-layl (The Narrow Frame of Midnight) is a powerful film, filled with whispered images rich with pictorial construction. Few words, no explanations, no morals. The fates of several characters intersect, are lost, refound and touch for a few moments.
Fantastical connections between the adult characters, Aïcha, an orphan girl with big eyes that light up like sensors on the world, is a victim of corruption, greed and human degradation.
Between beautiful ancient landscapes robbed by wars, bombs and poverty, Zacaria goes in search of his brother, perhaps signed up in a revolutionary muslim group, across Casablanca, Istanbul, and the plains of Kurdistan to Baghdad. For a stretch of his journey Zacaria saves Aïcha from the clutches of a pair of Lynchian Sailor and Lula characters who have bought the little girl for underage prostitution to sell her for a hundred thousand euro in the West. Zacaria then leaves her in what he considers a safe refuge: the home of Judith, a French emigre in Morocco, and an old love that ended tragically with the death of their child, which we deduce from the inner foldings in of the woman and from a closed room where Aïcha finds the walls decorated with cheerful colors, a cot, and a carousel of paper silhouettes hanging from the ceiling representing animals and oriental gods with which the child plays happily for once, smiling and carefree.
But the hardness of the film is not only reflected in the tragic search of Zacaria in the Iraqi morgues full of bodies under sheets red with blood- that we see with a dolly moving upwards to show an array of bodies composed like cards of horror- violence saturates the silence. The images of moving landscapes abandoned by hatred, the peace of the countryside, in which the French woman and the child get to know each other but are somehow unable to enjoy the little things of life, has been removed; tension is always present, keeping the viewer taut as a rope, with the illusion that there is hope for rebirth.
There is no coincidence that the last two scenes, juxtaposed, let your heart expand and then close, like a lotus flower that opens, or a sponge that dehydrates and becomes rock.
At the end Aïcha plays blind man's buff with unknown children in a field at sunset and Zacaria, lost, homeless and without family or love, wanders across a huge, open space flooded and surrounded by a multitude of silent women in black, each wearing a burqa from head to foot, each mourning, each with a picture of a lost loved one never to be found, each desperate and lost as much as he is.
Find My Talent
Filmed between Morocco, Turkey and Iraq, the film tells of the wanderings of three characters: a man in search of his brother enlisted in jihad, a woman living in spite of her lost love and a young orphan fleeing a man who wants to sell her. Filmed poetically, The Narrow Frame of Midnight explores the difficulties of being of its characters. Prisoners of a past of which they do not speak, they walk toward an uncertain future. The pain of their journey and their solitude coincide with sumptuous images: a ray of sunshine on the page of a book, blood swept away by a bucket of water in a makeshift morgue, a man motionless in the middle of women wearing chadors in motion ... with this film, Tala Hadid stands at opposite of the conventional feature films on jihadists, offering a different perspective- of the family, of the abandoned, beset by doubts and questions about the motives of their loved one to enlist. And the film offers us a personal and intimate look at odds with what the international media seem to dote on.
Alternative Cinema, BBC interview
The plot to Tala Hadid’s captivating The Narrow Frame of Midnight reads like a set-up for a gripping thriller and, in a sense, it is. Only it’s a thriller told at a pace which wisely allows the viewer time to reflect on what they see and what the wider social and moral implications could be.
Khalid Abdalla of “United 93” and “The Kite Runner” fame plays Zacaria, a half-Moroccan, half-Iraqi, England-born writer. He journeys to Morocco to search for his missing brother, who may have travelled to Iraq. By chance, he comes across Aicha, a resilient young orphan who has been taken from the Atlas Mountains by two criminals and is being transported to her buyer. Aicha asks Zacaria to rescue her and he quickly agrees.
Hadid seems more interested in conveying how the incomprehensible suffering of the past and present are constantly weighing on the characters’ minds and souls than in filming suspenseful set pieces. In fact, the weakest scenes of the film tend to be among those involving the closest thing it has to a main villain – Hocine Choutri’s monstrous kidnapper Abbas is well performed but a little flatly drawn for a film that otherwise so affectingly observes the psychological side of things. Such moments however tend to only be short-lived breaks in the mesmerising spell Hadid casts.
A sizeable amount of the film is given over to beautifully shot, unnervingly quiet footage of nature but Hadid’s low key, contemplative approach never wears out its welcome (I’d even be interested in seeing Hadid apply her thoughtful methods to a film with a more ambitious running time). Not all of the strands of the plot are tied together neatly with a sense of closure by the end and the film is all the better for it.
The Narrow Frame of Midnight is, in part, about elusive truths and lingering emotions. In denying her characters a complete picture of the events that unfold, Hadid allows the world they inhabit to be as big and mysterious as our own. These are people you can imagine living their lives long before and after the 90 minutes you spend with them.
"Our image is dominated from without. And the dominant image is of the jihadi. Of course it exists, but there is still a medium, another possible route," confides Tala Hadid.
Filmed between Morocco, Turkey and Iraq, Itar El-Layl (The Narrow Frame of the Midnight) by Moroccan-Iraqi director Tala Hadid offers us a counterpoint against films on North Africa on jihadists and their families ("God's Horses", "the unbelievers", "the repentant" ...). in her first feature fiction film starring Anglo-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla. The director has put a powerfully poetic narrative at the service of a dramatic story (the kidnapping of a child, the quest for a brother enlisted by jihadists), providing a space for many Muslims who suffer in silence while a jihadi minority leads them to disaster. If, as the French rap group Lunatic sing "Silence is not an oversight," Tala Hadid justly saves her characters from oblivion by their silence. A palpable, burning and inner pain is suffered by her protagonists, who exist within the splendor of the scenery and mis-en-scene. By the placing the beauty of the image in the face of an ugly and dark situation, Tala Hadid signs with "Itar El-Layl" a subtle and poignant feature film through her eyes and her words.
The Hollywood Reporter