Today: April 24, 2024

Black Gold

As the East looks to the West in envy of its modernity and vast wealth, and the West looks to East for its oil, two warring Arab tribes battle over a seemingly worthless expanse of inhospitable desert.

As the East looks to
the West in envy of its modernity and vast wealth, and the West looks to East
for its oil, two warring Arab tribes battle over a seemingly worthless expanse
of inhospitable desert.
The historical and social connotations of Black Gold certainly have a
contemporary feel; the recent uprisings during the Arab Spring and the
continued plundering of oil by the West are very much an on-going issue for the
Arab world and director Jean Jacques
Annaud
clearly feels there is material to draw on for his period epic. You
cannot not deny Annaud’s ambition to make Black
Gold
both an entertaining picture and one with an underlying historical and
sociological undertone. But what you can question is his execution.

Never one to stick to exact historical truth, Annaud is a
director who uses events, periods or figures in history as a backdrop for his
own romping dramas – No one would claim Enemy
at the Gates
to be an accurate portrayal of the Battle of Stalingrad or the
story of Vasily Zaytsev, but it is, at its very core, an entertainment piece.
With Black Gold, the prospect of a star-studded cast along with vast desert
landscapes and grand set-pieces, there is at first room for optimism. What more
could you want from a historical epic? Inevitable comparisons will be made to David Lean’s eponymous desert classic Lawrence of Arabia – and Annaud has
fought hard to annul any such association – but outside of all the sand and
Bedouin desert wear the comparison is just an obvious one.

Tahar Rahim stars
as young Prince Auda, who, along with his older brother, is traded from his
biological father as a part of a peace deal between two tribes to the more
liberal-minded Emir Nasib – played by that well-know Arab actor Antonio Banderas. As part of the deal a stretch of desert is
declared a no man’s land between the two tribes. On the eve of the oil boom in
the 1930s, Emir Nasib is lured by the wealth and modernity of the West and is
convinced to scour the no man’s land for valuable oil. Nasib is a modernist as
opposed to the traditional values of Auda’s real father Sultan Amar – played by
that other well-known Arab actor Mark
Strong
. Here Annaud has a rather crude handling of the balance between
modernity and traditions as his view of Arab traditions are mostly of a perceived
backwardness of the law of the Qur’an. “Infidel” is a word Annaud is very fond
of here.

Though Annaud is no great poet of historical topics, one at
least expects some riveting set-pieces. Yet, as the film drags along, the
film’s action scenes are all together quite dull and ineffective. Like a
wandering desert Bedouin, Black Gold is pedestrian at best and is as parched
of energy as a malnourished camel. Scenes come and go without much occurring. Rahim tries his best with a flaccid
script, whilst the film altogether abandons poor old Freida Pinto who does not quite have the level of skill as Rahim to
hide the obvious script issues.

The few highlights are mostly down to Banderas who has some
of the film’s best lines. Completely abandoning any attempt at playing an Arab,
Banderas just plays Banderas and brings what can only be described as an
unintended, but welcome, comic edge. One can only think he thought he was
remaking Carry On… Up the Khyber?

Though the film is chiefly about the war between Arab and Arab,
tradition against modernity, the Western influence and rape of the desert is
largely left unobserved by Annaud. For only a brief moment does the film
address the unquenchable thirst Westerners have for Arabian oil and the
possible affect this will have on the traditions of their land. For a film that
wants to address modern contexts, Black
Gold
is largely ambivalent to the
crimes of the West and ignores a more powerful message. In a sense Black Gold is a misjudged film about the westernisation of Arabia watched
through rose-tinted glasses.


Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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