LFF 2013: 'The Rooftops' review

★★★☆☆
One of several African efforts to screen at this year's London Film Festival, Merzak Allouache's The Rooftops (2013) presents a day in the life of Algiers as seen through the lives of a wide cast of characters and from a distinctly privileged perspective. Playing like an Algerian Short Cuts, the drama recounts the various lives of the people who use and live on the rooftops. Some do so out of necessity, squatting in makeshift shacks, or colonising the wash room and charging people to use the rooftop. In a number terraces spread throughout different quarters of the city - from the Casbah to Bab El Oued - the rooftops are crammed with life.

There's a boxer working out with his punch bag; a band rehearsing, watched on by an admirer; a gangster and his thugs torture a building contractor and a documentary film crew search for a panorama of the city. In this consistently engaging movie, Allouache skilfully mixes humour with drama. The rooftops themselves are a paradoxically public and private space which suggest both alienation and community. A woman will watch helplessly as a tragedy plays out on a nearby rooftop, but across the city there is a wedding feast with the music drifting into the night air and down to the streets. Allouache's conceit holds and the stories he tells are diverse and rich.

The vitality and contradictions of the Arab world are lightly touched on and history is present in the musings of a retired policeman and the ravings of an elderly relative chained up in a kennel. The ensemble cast are superb, but it's Algiers itself which is perhaps the central character of The Rooftops. With its rhythms and music, the crashing sea and the changing light in the sky, the spectator is left with the impression of a city full of contradictions and problems, poverty, the mistreatment of women, corruption and greed. However, in Allouache's essentially humane vision, hope survives and an unexpected for act of kindness can come from the most obvious of places.

The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale

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