El-haimoune (Wanderers of the Desert)
El-haimoune (Wanderers of the Desert) is the first in a trilogy of movies by director Nacer Khemir set in the expanse of the Tunisian desert. In fact, as he readily admits, ‘In all of my three movies, the desert is a character in itself.’
El-haimoune is a homage to Arab culture, albeit a culture of a bygone age (or legend), one that is more often found away from the big cities. Which is good news if you are viewing the movie for travel purposes. It offers a view of the Tunisian landscape that hasn’t been embellished with droids, landspeeders and Skywalkers.
The story tells of a young teacher traveling to a new job at a village school in the middle of nowhere. What happens after he arrives is a blend of myth and reality. People are drawn by an ancient curse to wander endlessly in the desert, a man spends 50 years digging for treasure, and a mysterious boat is washed up in the sand.
The film has been acclaimed and derided in equal part, but there is general consensus about one thing – the landscape. As one writer says, ‘Nacer Khemir has created a series of films that portray both the beauty and mystery of the deserts of Tunisia to astounding effect.’
Says Khemir, ‘There is a Tuareg proverb that says: “There are lands that are full of water for the well-being of the body, and lands that are full of sand for the well-being of the soul.” The desert is a literary field and a field of abstraction at the same time. It is one of the rare places where the infinitely small, that is a speck of sand, and the infinitely big, and that is billions of specks of sand, meet. It is also a place where one can have a true sense of the universe and of its scale.’
The shimmering, windswept sands of North Africa are used as a magical backdrop throughout the movie. Like the constantly shifting shape of the dunes, nothing is what it seems. – Roshan McArthur