LFF 2022: Ashkal – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 31 minutes, Director – Youssef Chebbi

When burnt bodies and skeletons begin to appear across Carthage two detectives (Mohamed Grayaâ, Fatma Oussaifi) try to find out the source of what may be an increase in self-immolation.

With each stage of the investigative process that it depicts Ashkal attempts to show the slow, drawn-out process as best as possible within its 91 minute run-time. It’s a slow-burn, there’s no denying that. And sometimes this means that certain elements can feel somewhat disjointed due to the bridges between them and the course that the narrative as a whole follows. We go from focusing on our two leads and the central case at hand to occasionally branching out to look at other, admittedly related, areas that will later impact them and their search for clues and answers.

The figures in question are Batal (Mohamed Grayaâ) and Fatma (Fatma Oussaifi), while there’s a fair deal of discussion between them the film almost seems to focus on their views on the case at hand. We meet them after the discovery of a charred skeleton in the middle of a long-abandoned, unfinished building structure. While initially it’s put down to a case of self-immolation more similar cases begin to crop up, with no known link or source. The more that’s uncovered to do with the bodies the more an eerie sense begins to enter the piece. It’s boosted by occasional elements such as music and the way certain footage is shown and captured – sometimes via a phone or some form of playback – which truly help to capture the darkness that’s at play in something like this.

In fact, while the film and your engagement are sometimes hindered by the slow-burn quality of the narrative the effect of such moments is increased thanks to this factor. In a number of ways it’s the biggest push and pull when it comes to the ways in which the film comes across to the viewer. Especially in terms of the depiction of the relationship between Batal and Fatma, who often feel very distanced from each other, especially in the opening stages as their differences are fully on display, alongside the clear roles which each one plays in the case and work in general. Yet, while occasionally Ashkal might hit some bumps along the way, and create its own distance to the viewer, there’s just about enough present to bring your interest back at certain points to make for interesting viewing, particularly when it comes to the extent of the potential murders that appear throughout.

The slow-burn that constructs Ashkal’s narrative makes for both disengagement and interest. While certain instances feel drawn out of disjointed others have an enhanced darkness and sense of engagement to them helping to broaden out of the mystery taking place.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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