Zinzana (2015)

vt Rattle the Cage
UAE / 92 minutes / color / Image Nation Abu Dhabi, IM Global Dir: Majid Al Ansari Pr: Rami Yasin Scr: Ruckus Skye, Lane Skye Cine: Colin Leveque Cast: Ali Suliman, Saleh Bakri, Yasa, Abdalla Rashid Al Shehhi, Ali Al Jabri, Mansoor Alfeeli, Ahd Kamel, Omar Abdulhamid, Iyad Hoorani.

There are very few things I can promise you with absolute certainty, but here’s one: I’ve never featured a United Arab Emirates neonoir on this site before. The reason I’m so very positive this is the case is that Zinzana—the name means “cage” in Arabic—is the first and, so far as I can tell, only neonoir to be made in the UAE. On the evidence of this outing, however, I’m hoping there’ll be many more.

In an unidentified Arab country, Talal Mohammed Bin Antar (Bakri) has been thrown into the cells of the local PD for getting into a fight: he attacked a stranger, Bu Hamad (Al Jabri). The latter is able to arrange bail for himself but, when Talal phones his ex-wife, Wafa Nasser (Kamel), she’s not interested in helping him out: she remembers him as the drunk he used to be and assumes—wrongly, because he’s been dry a long time now—that it’s because of the booze he finds himself where he is.

Saleh Bakri as Talal.

Talal’s jailor, Sheriff Othman (Al Shehhi), is one of those complacent people who’d be kindly if he weren’t so lazy. Talal has begun to form a bond with him when there arrives on the scene the young, dapper Deputy Dbaan (Suliman) from another station.

As Talal watches aghast through the bars of his cage, Dbaan gruesomely murders Othman, stows the body in the lavatory and settles in to play the part of Talal’s guard. Needless to say, the coke-sniffing, narcissistic Dbaan isn’t a cop at all.

Ali Suliman as Deputy Dbaan.

Matters are hugely complicated by the arrival on the scene of supervising dispatcher Aida Tawfiq (Yasa), a simple-minded woman who’s soon dazzled by Dbaan’s pretense that he finds her attractive.

The stage is set for a battle of wits between Dbaan, who seems to hold all the cards, and his caged, bewildered prisoner, Talal.

Yasa as Aida Tawfiq.

As the story unfolds, however, we’re slowly given new bits of information to help us realize that some of our original assumptions were misplaced. Dbaan, for example, isn’t just the random sadistic psycho he seems to be: he has a purpose for his actions, one we don’t discover until near the end. Another character proves to be not quite who we thought he was. And so on.

Ahd Kamel as Wafa.

Omar Abdulhamid as Shehab.

I have minor—very minor—reservations about the movie. Some of the camerawork is a bit unnecessarily tricksy, as when we go on a little voyage up through a smoke alarm to discover where its fault lies, or when, in periods of unconsciousness, Talal sees Wafa and his son, Shehab (Abdulhamid), as if they were figures out of the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). A couple of the plot developments—for example, when Shehab in deus ex machina fashion suddenly appears at the copshop—raised my eyebrows for a moment. Yet for the most part I was completely captivated by the movie, loving the way I was being bamboozled by it in all the right places.

Abdalla Rashid Al Shehhi as Sheriff Othman.

Saleh Bakri is an extremely talented and charismatic actor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even now he’s receiving Hollywood offers. Ali Suliman’s role here is far more sinister, but he carries it off with tremendous brio. To judge by the fact that she appears under a single name, I’d guess Yasa is a major thespian figure in the Arab world; I confess I hadn’t hear of her before, but her performance here is quite striking.

Iyad Hoorani as Kassab.

One of the great benefits of running this site, whatever its many faults, is that it encourages me to watch—and discover I love—all sorts of movies I might otherwise have lazily never quite gotten around to. Zinzana is a prime example of this. On paper the idea of a UAE neonoir sounds fascinating, worthy even, but at the end of a hard day’s work is this really how I want to relax? Yet again, though, I’ve discovered a movie that—like, say, REAR WINDOW (1954), to which it has a curious affinity that I can’t define—has engaged and entertained me far more than whatever popcorn accompaniment I might otherwise have slouched in front of.

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