Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Black Gold had its world premiere at the festival and Julien Planté brings us his review.
Rather prophetically, Black Gold opens with the line “Tears are a waste of water”; a great quote for a film that opens a festival in a country concerned about its resources. Only in this film, set in Qatar, the most important and fought over resource is oil.
The 3rd edition of Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF 2011) opened with the world premiere of the ‘Arabian’ film Black Gold amid much fanfare on Tuesday. And what a perfect choice it was to open the festival. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose, The Lover, Enemy at the Gates), Black Gold is an epic film set in the desert during the 1920s. Concerned with the rivalry between Arab clans in the Middle East caused by oil exploitation, or should we say the deliberate non-exploitation of oil as a refusal to the ‘devilry’ of modernity, the film is predominantly about the age-old conflict between tradition and progress.
Themes about power and control permeate through Black Gold, with many of the characters willing to die for a land that was just thought to be a worthless desert. As the hero, Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) plays a prince torn between two fathers; his biological father played by Mark Strong (as incredible as it seems, he is a great Arab actor) and Amar, the man who raised him as one of his. Antonio Banderas is the star of the film playing the devilish Sultan Amar in a way that could remind you of the villain Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin. And of course, in the middle of this violent world there is a beautiful desert flower; a princess played by Freida Pinto.
One can’t help referring to the David Lean’s desert-classic Lawrence of Arabia because the film has a grandeur feel to it thanks to expansive landscapes, rollicking musical accompaniment, conflicting human values and large-scale action scenes. But really the film resonates with a more modern vision of the Arab world, rather than any particular British angle or reference to colonialism. The issue here, or rather the core of the fight, is the ‘gold’ that is oil and the battle between Arab and Arab (the only ‘western’ presence in the film is an American from a Texan oil company who is only a passive witness).
It’s a story that will have an impact for the audience today and could potentially change the perception of the Arab world in some western minds. Black Gold is even more contemporary since the emergence of the ‘Arab Spring’, which started during the shooting of this film. In fact, one key scene was actually shot in Tunisia the very day where Ben Ali flew from his country and as producer Tarak Ben Ammar puts it, “the magic of cinema started on the set, even before its symbolic premiere at the DTFF”.