• Golden Globe Awards

Oliver Black (Morocco)

From My Dinner with Andre to Oleanna to Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, cinema has a rich tradition of so-called “two-handers” – movies that tightly focus on, and channel their drama primarily through, the examination of a single relationship between two people.
Tawfik Baba’s Oliver Black generally fits this mold, telling the story of a nameless old man (Hassan Richiou) and a young African boy, Vendredi (Modou Mbow), wandering the desert of Morocco together. The latter wants to be in the circus, while the former is attempting to get to his granddaughter’s wedding but has lost his camel. Conversing about their shared and divergent fears and dreams, the two slowly develop an unlikely bond before, in the film’s final reel, a betrayal throws into question everything about not only their relationship, but, indeed, their individual moralities.
Buoyed by natural outdoor settings captured in striking fashion by cinematographer Smail Touil, Oliver Black isn’t experimental, per se, but it flirts for a while with a non-narrative aesthetic – is what the viewer is watching unfold literal, or a series of allegorical fever dreams, or a mixture of both? – before eventually yielding to a somewhat more structural approach. Baba studs his film with enough slightly enigmatic back-and-forth that it, at times, feels like a tribute of sorts to Ingmar Bergman. In other respects, the movie’s presentation of a harsh and unforgiving landscape, as well as its indulgence in meandering conversational exchanges, recalls Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, which itself offered a tip of the hat to the work of Hungarian director Béla Tarr.
A didactic work more interested in probing philosophical issues than in any traditional or audience-friendly catharsis, Baba’s feature debut touches on racism and ethnic self-loathing, the lingering generational effects of war, and even the environment. As such, it opens itself up to multiple rich interpretations. The winner of the Best International Feature Film award at the Festival de Cinema de Alter Do Chã in Brazil, Oliver Black may not have all the answers – but then again, it is not a film that purports to. It does, though, mark Baba as an ambitious director and one interesting to watch.