The Desert Ark Review

AKA: L’Arche du Desert, The Ark of the Desert
Genre: Drama/Romance
Year Released: 1997
Distributor: ArtMattan
Origin: Algeria
Running Time: 86 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Romeo and Juliet, Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako film), Daratt, Yeelen
Notes:
-This was bundled in the Great African Films 3 DVD set, but both films are unrelated.
Fun Facts:
-The Desert Ark was directed by Mohamed Chouikh. He was born in Mostaganem, Algeria in 1943 back when it was still a French colony. Some of his other works as a director include Hamlet of Women, The Citadel, and Rupture. Chouikh has also acted in Dance of the Wind, Les Nomades, and Monette.

-Interestingly enough, Myriam was actually played by someone with the same first name: Myriam Aouffen. This is also her only acting role to date.

-Outside of The Desert Ark, Abdelrahim Bouzine acted in Days of Glory.

-Hilarious in Hindsight/Geography Bonus: One of the factions has a plain green flag much like how Libya did from 1977-2011, so this movie came out during the time that monochromatic flag existed. That is so unintentionally hilarious even though the characters aren’t Libyan.

Happy 2022, everyone! I have been insanely busy with things outside of my blogging life and I have to prep up my 2021 year-end lists, so I’ll have to see what went down in hindsight with views and potential records. It does seem weird with a Tuesday review with Ringing Bell and not having a review last week mainly because Christmas happened. I had this DVD rental sitting around for a while, so I thought I would tackle that whenever I could. Let’s start with something from ArtMattan which I’ve covered a ton of their library for over a year now.

Is this star-crossed lover story in North Africa a good way to kick off the new year? Let’s find out.

The Desert Ark involves a conflict in the rural part of Algeria. This particular schism is based on two warring tribes in town that use green and blue respectively for their flags. The divide is based on religious beliefs and borders. Despite this blood feud, there is a romance that happens between both factions with Amin and Myriam. Both sides were not happy with this blossoming romance, so they are kept separate and threatened to war against each other. The lovebirds are forced into hiding in a neutral mountainous area in the desert as tensions flare up with stricter borders and attacks on neutral tribes who were unfortunate to cross paths. How will their love survive in these intense times?

I know the Romeo and Juliet comparisons are incredibly obvious from the jump, but at least there’s a different twist with the story not playing out like how the Bard wrote it or even with famous remakes such as West Side Story for example. The romance happens within minutes and is strongly implied that they have been seeing each other for a little while now, so that was a good twist. Also, the story doesn’t end with both characters dying even though a different tragedy happens around them as I try to avoid spoilers as best I can. It was also a good choice of showing how both sides operated with their religious extremism, ideology on how people should be treated, and even low-key depictions of magic are on display. The story does build up to a dangerous crescendo and I’m glad they didn’t resort to the ending to Romeo and Juliet. The last few minutes could be a short film on its own with the boy leaving the chaos around him while being severely disillusioned about how “crazy” the adults are. The acting was strong and was very poignant in the imagery chosen to heighten the emotions of that scene. There were some good critiques of religious extremism, the cycle of vengeance, and the concept of outside parties getting hurt because of some grudges. Those elements deserve to be noted as this could’ve been a paint-by-numbers narrative of the “star-crossed lovers/warring factions” tropes, so I can tell there was some effort over there.

The Desert Ark does seem like an apt title regardless of the positives I mentioned because it is quite dry. The production was realistic, but it looked cheaper than it should be as well as dated. I thought this was made in the early 90s at the latest instead of 1997. I’ve noticed some subtitle errors and the songs had omitted subtitles even though they were in Arabic just like the rest of the dialogue. I rarely ever say this even when it comes to my other negative reviews, but I have to say this here. I was bored watching The Desert Ark. Most of the characters were very bland, I wasn’t invested in the forbidden romance between the two leads, and I barely know any of the names of the secondary characters. This did have a great amount of potential, but I felt as though the filmmakers and most of the actors were just going through the motions while making this work which is sad. I could’ve seen The Desert Ark being so much better, but it was the kind of mediocrity that wasn’t really worth talking about instead of being hilariously bad or an enraging kind of bad. It’s the kind that enables me to be apathetic which one could argue is worse because I rarely felt anything besides a few scenes.

I know this is a shorter review than what I usually churn out, but The Desert Ark was something I didn’t have much to say about. I did like some of the twists of the tropes while showing both sides of the rivalry, but that wasn’t enough to like the sum of all the parts involved. I could care less about the characters and the production of it was subpar even for the setting. Maybe I just haven’t been enjoying ArtMattan’s Great African Movie series with the exception of Tasuma (which I thought was just good, but not breathtaking), but I really wasn’t feeling this Algerian movie.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-3 points if you like star-crossed lover stories.
-Add 1 point if you like the North African film scene.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you prefer big-budget films.

Pros:
-Healthy balance of showing both sides of a conflict
-Decent handling of concepts such as the cycle of vengeance and religious fundamentalism
-The ending scene in isolation is quite powerful

Cons:
-Mediocre cinematography
-Subpar acting
-Severe lack of stellar characters and characterization

Final Score: 3/10 points

Content Advisory: The Desert Ark might be fine for older teens and up. The violence gets quite bloody and there’s some disturbing domestic abuse like how Myriam gets chained up as punishment by her tribe. Characters die and there’s massive destruction in the final battle. There’s some swearing, innuendo, and some brief breastfeeding nudity in one scene. Concepts of the occult, the cycle of vengeance, and religious extremism are part of the plot.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Desert Ark is property of ArtMattan. The DVD cover is from IMDb and is property of ArtMattan.

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