Tar Angel

on April 05, 2002 by Susan Green
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   Known for welcoming "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," America has been a melting pot that encourages adaptation and integration. Canada, on the other hand, has traditionally served as a multicultural mosaic in which newcomers were more likely to preserve their heritage. From Quebec, writer/director Denis Chouinard's "Tar Angel" explodes the myth of a nation with open arms in a story about the Kasmis, an Algerian refugee family in crisis. This is the cinematic equivalent of the Woody Guthrie song that targets U.S. immigration policies: "You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane/And all they will call you will be Deportee..."

   The big airplane in "Tar Angel" is also deporting illegal aliens back to their homelands, and young Hafid Kasmi (Rabah Ait Ouyahia) intends to risk his life stopping it. He has joined a militant organization, to the horror of his law-abiding parents, who are awaiting citizenship status a world away from their native Algiers. When Hafid disappears after breaking into a government office, his father Ahmed (the sensational Zinedine Soualem) reluctantly joins forces with the teenager's punky Quebecois girlfriend Huguette (Catherine Trudeau, a Bernadette Peters look-alike) to find him. The road movie that ensues helps open the older man's heart and mind--and presumably those of an uninformed or indifferent public.

   Although the script is smart and the acting subtle, the film, which won the Best Canadian Feature award at the Montreal Fest, periodically cannot escape its own earnest polemics. That's most apparent when the police brutalize Hafid and then stand perfectly still as if stunned by the martyrdom they've inadvertently fostered. It's an editorial comment rather than a compelling dramatic device.    Starring Zinedine Soulalem, Catherine Trudeau, Rabah Ait Ouyahia, Raymond Cloutier and Hiam Abbass. Directed and written by Denis Couinard. Produced by Roger Frappier and Luc Vandal. No distributor set. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 99 min.

Tags: Starring Zinedine Soulalem, Catherine Trudeau, Rabah Ait Ouyahia, Raymond Cloutier and Hiam Abbass. Directed and written by Denis Couinard. Produced by Roger Frappier and Luc Vandal, Drama
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