Nefta Football Club. By Fergus Henderson.
Along the border between Tunisia and Algeria, two young brothers encounter a donkey. The donkey is wearing headphones, and it carries a dangerous cargo. Elsewhere along this border two men nervously wait for this same donkey, and what it carries.
The decision that older brother Mohamed then makes as he takes the donkey’s cargo marks the turning point from childhood to adulthood. In many ways the fallout from his decision explores the redemptive innocence that a dangerous adult world can snatch away.
Nefta Football Club is director Yves Piat’s first short in over a decade. Whatever the reasons for this long hiatus, Piat has re-emerged with the weight of wisdom, and the wisdom in this case is to handle this potentially heavy story with levity and sweetness. Like the best coming of age stories, the consequences of Mohamed absconding with the donkey’s goods carry a heavy threat – Piat’s touch, however, is mercifully light. Whilst the narrative tension of the story is filled with threat, the story is more interested in the innocence in our hearts.
Then there is the humour, which is woven effortlessly into the story. The banter between the brothers Mohamed and Abdallah rings with fraternal affection. Eltayef Dhaoui, as Mohamed, perfectly captures the false bravado of a young boy stepping into the adult role he believes he can handle. He tries to protect young Abdallah (Mohamed Ali Ayari) from the gravity of the new world he has entered into, recognising the innocence he must protect even whilst appearing to sacrifice his own. Incredibly, having just written that, it is important to note again that Nefta Football Club is a comedy.
The donkey, as it turns out, was supposed to be listening to a totally different artist, which would lead the donkey home –unfortunately the man in charge of the donkey’s aux misheard the other (a punchline of wordplay too funny to spoil). Even these men (played by Lyes Salem and Hichem Mesbah) are defined not by their nefarious deeds but by the humour and pathos of their bumbling miscommunication.
In the end, this lovely short seems to say that whilst innocence is fragile, especially in difficult and desperate situations, it is alive in everyone. Obviously as this is a comedy, this innocence is located in the miscommunications of its characters, but it is poignant nonetheless to emphasise that our foibles can represent our best and sweetest qualities.
Piat and his wonderfully talented cast should be commended not just for making a genuine comedy out of tricky subject matter, but for making it so beautifully humanist. He is in the process of developing his debut feature film, certainly one to watch out for.
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