REVIEW: Nefta Football Club [2019]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 17 minutes
    Release Date: 2019 (Tunisia)
    Studio: Les Valseurs
    Director(s): Yves Piat
    Writer(s): Yves Piat

I’m going to piss in Algeria.

Two men (Lyès Salem‘s Salim and Hichem Mesbah‘s Ali) are searching for a mule. Two boys (Eltayef Dhaoui‘s Mohamed and Mohamed Ali Ayari‘s Abdallah) are on their way to a makeshift desert soccer field to have a match with the friends when they come across the animal standing on the Tunisian/Algerian border. Mohamed doesn’t have time to deal with his little brother’s excitement at finding the surreal scenario that is an abandoned mule listening to music through headphones, but he checks what’s in the bags it carries nonetheless to discover a potential payday beyond his wildest dreams. Suddenly we recognize why Salim is so adamant that Ali not take a rest until they find it. The package they lost could be the difference between life and death.

Writer/director Yves Piat isn’t interested in using Nefta Football Club to tell that story, though. The impulse for a heavily dramatic film full of dangerous threats and sociopathic criminals must have been at the back of his head when imagining this plot, but he decided to lean into the absurdity of the situation instead. Because while Mohamed is old enough to know what he’s found and what he can do with it, Abdallah is not. All this boy wants to do is hang out with his older brother and play soccer in the desolate wasteland that is their hometown. So what would happen if Abdallah got his hands on the goods without Mohamed present to stop him? How does his believing they’re something they’re not impact his actions?

The result is a comedy of errors beautifully shrouded beneath this arid environment of poverty and opportunism. Piat expertly walks a tonal tightrope to ensure things never get goofy enough to dismiss the setting or scary enough to negate the humor born from its inherent severity. So we chuckle when Ali figures out how he misinterpreted Salim’s instructions because the joke is effectively written as an enjoyable miscommunication they can grin about in hindsight if the pain of its present cost evaporates. And we can smile in astonishment alongside Mohamed’s shock when he realizes what’s happened to his best-laid plans. Piat reminds us via the amusing fickleness of fate that kids should be able to remain kids much longer than today’s broken, war-torn world currently allows.

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