Film Scouts Reviews

"Salut cousin!"

by Kathleen Carroll

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Sept. 29, 1996

It cannot be easy for a filmmaker to be cut off from the very country that is his main source of inspiration. Consider the case of director Merzak Allouache.

In his most acclaimed film, "Bab El Qued City," Allouache dared to criticize the fundamentalist extremists who are presently in power in his native Algeria. So for now he's a filmmaker without a country, living the life of an exile in France.

Given his situation, Allouache's "Salut Cousin!" is surprisingly giddy for a tale of two Algerians in the traditionally hostile environment of Paris. There's a certain undercurrent of sadness, occasional poignant reminders of Allouache's own personal dilemma. One Algerian immigrant, a 30-year-resident of Paris, wistfully confides that he still misses "the smell of mint."

The film is, in effect, a Gallic replay of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple." Alilo (Gad Elmaleh), a sweet-natured country bumpkin, arrives fresh from Algeria. His wondering eyes pop wide with shock as he's exposed to the flamboyant life style of his urbanized cousin Mok (Mess Hattou).

Mok's apartment is mainly a closet for his absurdly theatrical clothes. He welcomes his cousin by whipping up a plate of "Thai spaghetti." The neat and conservative Alilo is even more astounded to witness his cousin, in a comical clash of cultures, try to recite the fables of La Fontaine to a pounding hip-hop beat. Mok, an aspiring rap singer and a hopeless gambler, even takes Alilo on an obviously "E.T."-inspired motorbike ride in which they gleefully soar over the city's magically lit streets.

To sum up, "Salut Cousin!" contains some engaging moments thanks to Elmaleh's earnest performance, but it fails to leave a lasting impression.

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