A remarkable, dark Jordanian thriller

The Alleys copy
(Photos: Handouts from Bassel Ghandour)
In a claustrophobic neighborhood in East Amman, “The Alleys” explores the niche details of life, where gossip and violence run rampant.اضافة اعلان

The debut film of Bassel Ghandour, who cowrote the Oscar-nominated short “Theeb”, released in cinemas. At the start of the movie, it tells the audience to “believe half of what you hear and two-thirds of what you see.”

Ali (Emad Azmi) and Lana (Baraka Rahmani) are engaged in a discreet love affair, but when Lana’s mother Aseel (Nadira Omran) is sent a compromising video by a blackmailer, she seeks out a local gangster, Abbas (Monzer Reyahnah) — leading to tragic consequences.

With the narrator’s voice in the background of the characters’ tumultuous daily struggles, the audience is kept in suspense as the dark comedy, mystery thriller, and crime drama unfolds.
Story in chapters
The film is divided into five chapters, the first of which — “Hustle” — introduces the audience to the characters’ daily life and sets up the story to follow. It establishes Ali and Lana’s relationship, her mother’s disapproval, and more.

As the narrator tells us: everyone knows everyone’s business and the story will spread like wildfire.

Characters to reveal more
Ghandour’s film has strong, memorable moments. It might be one of the best in recent Jordanian cinema. It creates an uneasy tension where everything that is seen and (over)heard in this tightknit community could decide the fate of the characters.

The beginning of the film sets itself up as a mix between 1950s Egyptian cinema and Martin Scorsese’s first films like “Mean Streets”.

In the fifth chapter, “Checkmate”, the plot thickens, as all the characters find their paths converging.

The film manages to balance myriad details and intrigues without missing a beat or creating confusion. It is clear the film was handled with care and patience across the board, from management to execution.

While the film makes no claims to real events, the dialogue and action is so sincere that it breathes life into everything it portrays — reality, even if we believe half of what we see and two-thirds of what we hear.

Ali is pushed to dangerous lengths to create a better life for himself and Lana, and even Abbas finds himself in a precarious position when he is the victim of a horrifying act of revenge.

As the gangster discovers, the iron fist with which he has ruled the neighborhood and his gang is coming undone, forming a catalyst for an increasingly frantic — and deliberately outlandish — series of events.

Each cast member’s presence means none of the characters fade into the background; each has autonomy and presence in their own story.

Each has found a way to navigate the challenging landscape in which they live, however aggressive and manipulative they must be.

Awards and festivals
The Alleys’ world premiere witnessed a massive turnout at the iconic Piazza Grande of Locarno Film Festival — the first Jordanian feature film to be selected at Rotterdam & Locarno. It also sold out tickets at the BFI London Film Festival.

Its Arab premiere was held at the Red Sea International Film Festival, and the film also took part in Festival du Premier Film d’Annonay, France, among other international festivals.

The film won the “Works in Progress Post-production Development Award” at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and won two awards for films in post-production at Cairo Film Connection of Cairo International Film Festival.

Top-notch film funding institutions supported the film’s development, including the Jordanian Royal Film Commission, the Jordan Film Fund, and the Doha Film Institute.

Suspense through visuals
Visually, The Alleys’ framing is realistic. Matching the neighborhood’s narrow alleys, the audience is made to feel claustrophobic. It maintains a sense of energy, plunging the audience into the dark shadow world where criminality festers in dimly lit streets; the talented work of cinematographer Justin Hamilton.

The Alleys has a lot of revelations at the end, but one thing is for sure: it will surprise you.

The stunning details of the neighborhood and its characters are presented in a fun adventure that makes The Alleys a remarkable Jordanian film to be proud of.

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