Au fond d’une zone industrielle à l’agonie, Mao, un patron musulman, possède une entreprise de réparation de palettes et un garage de poids-lourds. Il décide d’ouvrir une mosquée et désigne sans aucune concertation l’imam…
Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche has a way of framing shots that can make an industrial landscape look like an art project. The dominant images in Dernier Maquis are of rows of carefully stacked red pallets towering in a truck yard located on the outskirts of Paris, where most of the film takes place. Under the direction of Ameur-Zaïmeche, these unaesthetic objects become fascinating to contemplate. Since his visual approach exhibits so strong a sense of control, it is fitting that he cast himself as the company boss. The yard workers call the boss “Mao,” as his leadership style feigns benevolence to keep them from organizing for better wages.
Like most of the Arab and African workers in the yard, the boss is Muslim. His latest strategy is to convert an empty room into a mosque where the workers can pray. As much as any pious aim, he seems motivated to calm tensions through prayer. The workers appreciate the chance to worship, but they see his mosque-building efforts as an attempt to dodge meeting their other demands. They argue among themselves, tending to divide by ethnicity, over whether the boss has the right to pick their imam and if they should form a union.
The same careful attention that Ameur-Zaïmeche applies to visuals, he also gives to the film’s sound design. He uses mechanical noise the way other directors use music to accentuate mood, from the roar of an airplane flying overhead to the warning beep of a forklift backing up. Against this soulless backdrop, the humanity and individuality of each character gradually emerge. Titi is a somewhat simple-minded Islamic convert deliberating over the need to be circumcised. The lumbering worker named Giant gets spooked over a large rodent. The imam grapples with maintaining loyalty to both the boss and the workers. The mechanics Jamil and Bachir stir the discontent towards a strike.
Ameur-Zaïmeche places these characters in striking tableaux that emphasize how they are affected by their environment. The towers of pallets loom like walls, entrapping everyone in an inevitable struggle for power. (Cameron Bailey)
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