Diverciné Review: 'The Narrow Frame of Midnight'

The Narrow Frame of Midnight
(Morocco/UK/France, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Tala Hadid
Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Marie-Josée Croze
The Narrow Frame of Midnight comes to the screen with considerable pedigree and pre-production laurels—writer/director Tala Hadid’s breakout short Your Dark Hair Ihsan triumphed at Berlin and won a student Oscar—and it has an air of visual poetry, but it doesn’t quite deliver on its potential. It’s a beautiful film to look at and some of the performances are fine, so The Narrow Frame of Midnight doesn’t disappoint entirely as a feature dramatic debut from a filmmaker of obvious talent. It’s a stunning and stirring film, and obscure and frustrating one as well.

There’s only one real problem with The Narrow Frame of Midnight, albeit a very big one, and it's the shattered chronology and storyline with which Hadid presents the drama. Disjointed multi-narratives work just fine—and they seem especially well-catered to the globe-trotting, border-crossing tale of universal human tragedy to which the film aspires—although The Narrow Frame of Midnight never lets the pieces of its puzzle come together in the same poetic fashion that multi-narrative films like Babel, Traffic, and (yes) Crash do. It’s admittedly unfair to compare a piece of world cinema to independent productions driven by major Hollywood talents and top-level stars, but The Narrow Frame of Midnight brings ample world cinema wattage with TheSquare’s Khalid Abdalla and Canada’s Marie-Josée Croze (The Barbarian Invasions) doing most of the grunt work. They hold the film together as best as they can—Croze is especially strong—and there’s only so much one can do with so many shards.

Admittedly, The Narrow Frame of Midnight emphasizes the fragmentary nature of the Middle East, so Hadid’s shattered scope has its purpose. Zacaria (Abdalla) is a London-born Moroccan-Iraqi in search of his brother who disappeared in the midst of alleged jihadist participation, while Judith (Croze) is Zacaria’s ex-girlfriend who lives alone at an idyllic Moroccan farm. Their stories reunite when Zacaria deposits a lost girl named Aïcha (Fadwa Boujouane) whom he rescued from a kidnapper (Hocine Choutri) en route to find his brother. Croze is characteristically excellent while Abdalla never quite makes Zacaria a complex or engaging character. He’s far outmatched by Boujouane’s surprisingly rich performance as the young Aïcha, who’s a born fighter and a feisty one to boot. All three fates linger without clarity or certainty, if only because each of these three characters hangs on the cusp of an aimless future. The connections are vague as time, place, and space shift without a perceptible structure or pattern, and Hadid pronounces the gaps too strongly for them to be ignored.

What’s left, however, is a fragmentary film that never quite comes together. The Narrow Frame of Midnight has a rich poetry, though, thanks to the range of the visual palette by cinematographer Alexander Burov. The fields of Judith’s farm are innocent and golden, while Zacaria encounters barren (but beautiful) chambers of death as he searches for his brother. The discordant pace of the film also has an inherent poetry in itself, as Hadid invites the audience to take the film more as an overall impression, or a feeling, than as a logical case of sense. There’s really no way to make sense of such a disorderly world than to react to it emotionally and viscerally—The Narrow Frame of Midnight easily provokes such a reaction.

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

The Narrow Frame of Midnight screens at Diverciné on March 14 at 6:50 at The ByTowne.
*Please note that the film will be presented in Arabic and French with French subtitles.*

DiverCiné runs March 7 -15. All screenings are at The ByTowne.
Please visit www.cfi-icf.ca for more info on films, tickets, and passes.