City of Shadows / La Cité (Kim Nguyen, 2010): Canada

Reviewed by Lea Encarnacion.  Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

The film City of Shadows, directed by Kim Nguyen, is a dramatic war epic set in North Africa in 1895.  Set in the Aures Mountains and shot on location in Tunisia with the Maghreb Association, the location is a stunning backdrop for the events that occur.  Doctor Maxime Vincent (played by Jean-Marc Barr) is a medical doctor, just released from the front lines of enemy war to a city he is no longer akin to feeling.  He develops nightmares about the patients and wounded soldiers he could not save.  In the city, he is given orders to return home in three days.  In those three days, many things turn the table for him.

The indigenous community of Herenites are sectioned off  from the colonial city by the soldier army, and the streets are left deserted.  Dr. Maxime Vincent sees a fortune teller who tells him that he has lost someone near and dear to him in the war – himself.  At that, he leaves, stunned.  The officials of the city quarantine the Herenite settlement and announce that they have the deadly bubonic plague. At the gates of the mountain, three young Herenite boys throw rocks at the soldiers, shouting that they cannot keep them there when they have lived 1000 years there and the colonialists have only been fifty years.  One Herenite boy hits the soldier in the eye, and it backfires as the soldier shoots his leg.  Doctor Maxime Vincent runs to his help and heals him.

Along the way into the Herenite settlement,  he learns that they have never had the plague, and is introduced into their way of living.  Back in town, he gets arrested for helping the Herenites and is told by the head soldier that reason why he wants to eradicate the Herenites – he witnessed his parents murders as a child.  Later on, he realizes that the dead rats in the city were planted and the plague was a frame as an excuse to diminish Herenites.  He gets injected by a masked assailant and the Herenites come and heal him in exchange for his healing of the boy.

As he is healed from the plague, the Herenites ritual ceremony is interweaved with stunning peaceful and spiritual shots.  The colors in this film are shown in muted earth tones to reflect the desert city, and yellow and blue lighting that is used to depict day/heat and night/cold.  The story is profound because it uses the history of war as a means to tell the moral that its impact is only negative for everyone, as well as to respect and preserve the old cultures and traditions.

I felt that although this film was visually stunning and had beautiful music, it was too slow at times which bored me and I fell asleep.  The pace of the movie at the beginning could have been better if it was changed up to hold the audience’s attention.  City of Shadows had a lot of potential, but it in the end it could have been better and left me as an unmemorable film.

About this entry