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Diverse Dimensions: ‘Animalia’ Offers a Glimpse into the World of Faith and Doubt

Posted by October 17th, 2023 No Comments »

Animalia (2023)
Directed by Sofia Alaoui
Starring Oumaima Barid, Mehdi Dehbi and Fouad Oughaou

As seen at the 42nd Annual Vancouver International Film Festival

Animalia is the amazing feature length debut from French director and screenwriter Sofia Alaoui. The mysterious first act kept me guessing about the nature of the film. More importantly, it introduced me to Itto, portrayed by newcomer Oumaima Barid. Itto, a pregnant woman, is beautiful and headstrong but appears somewhat out of place in her new surroundings, an opulent mansion in Morocco she now calls home because of her marriage to Amine. Mehdi Dehbi, an accomplished actor hailing from Belgium, portrays Amine as a character marked by thoughtfulness, gentleness, and ambition, instilled in him by his affluent parents who emphasize the significance of wealth and material possessions in achieving success.

The images of Morocco are stunning, and the landscape itself takes on a character all its own when Itto is forced to depart from the lap of luxury and return to the Morocco of her youth. The second act essentially transforms into a road trip narrative, on a three-wheeler, and it’s the only section of the film that could have benefitted from more concise editing. With a total runtime of 1 hour and 30 minutes, trimming about 10 minutes from this segment might have resulted in a tighter and more impactful overall film.

The ambiguity of the events unfolding in Morocco and presumably the rest of the world is a strong narrative device but the execution of the potentially-supernatural elements weren’t that awe inspiring on screen. Given a budget akin to that of Annihilation (Alex Garland’s second film) perhaps more could have been done to accentuate the film’s fantastical elements. Nevertheless, the third act stands near perfection. The eerie sense of the unknown, coupled with a return to the theme of “haves and have-nots,” builds up the climax to an exciting cresendo in a surprising place… a mosque.

It’s truly refreshing to witness the portrayal of religion, along with the juxtaposition of faith and doubt, within a context other than Christianity. I hope to see more of this in cinema. Regardless of one’s beliefs or lack thereof, it’s evident that as inherently curious beings, we safeguard ourselves through our capacity for doubt. Questioning, in fact, may represent the highest action of human intelligence, and “Animalia” masterfully underscores this point in its final act. I’m excited for Alaoui’s second film, and I’d like to urge Hollywood to invest in her talent and give her $40 million like you gave Garland. Have faith, it will be great.

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