By Monique Hall

Jean-Jacques Annaud’s latest offering Black Gold submerges audiences into 20th century Arabia on the outbreak of the oil boom, which quickly sparks war and revolution.  

The Arab world has far from been neglected by the camera over the past few years, following the outbreak of the Arab Spring. As well as entertaining the masses, Black Gold has a hidden agenda of putting Arabs in front of the lens for a positive reason; by representing their culture in a positive light. 

The film tells the tale of two Arabian enemies, Nesib, Emir of Hobeika (Antonio Banderas) and Amar, Sultan of Salmaah (Mark Strong) who are fighting over a stretch of land called ‘The Yellow Belt’. 

An agreement is made that Nesib will adopt Amar’s two sons, Saleeh (Akin Gazi) and Auda (played by ‘A Prophet’s’ Tahar Rahim), to act as peace treaty between the two warring leaders, and consequently neither of them can touch the yellow belt. 

Just over a decade later a Texan man visits Nesib and tells him that the land is ripe with oil. Ignoring the yellow belt treaty, Nesib cashes in on the oil and begins lavishing his riches on Hobeika. Pining for his previous life, the now warrior-like Saleeh attempts an escape back to Salmaah only for tragedy to strike, leaving the somewhat shy bookworm Auda to negotiate peace between his two fathers before war breaks out.

 In essence the film is the story of a boy’s journey to a man, and his attempt to carve a new world out of his predecessor’s failings. Auda becomes a product of his own; in some respect a product of the desert his two fathers fought over, as his tough quest across it turns him from librarian to leader. 

 It has to be said Rahim holds his own in the film, which is the first English language lead he has taken since rising to fame. He seems most comfortable in the film in his scenes alongside Strong, and during his quest across the desert, as he begins to play the confident young man craving change in an archaic world; a theme that many of the younger characters in the film uphold. 

Strong plays the pious and conservative leader well, with Banderas at times humorous but unfortunately often a tad cheesy when portraying the devious Nasib. 

Mimicking the grand scale filming of Laurence of Arabia, and adopting an epic ‘Golden Age of cinema’ style, the cinematography of Black Gold is beautiful; glorious sweeping shots of vast golden desert are intermingled with scenes of intricately decorated bedouins, bazaars and souks. 

It would be hard for anyone not to get caught up in the film’s romanticism; the exotic scenery coupled with James Horner’s score, which is adorned with prayer calls and eastern influences, is inspiring at times.  

War and bloodlust (it does get quite blood-happy in places) is broken up throughout the film with Auda’s relationship with Nasib’s daughter Leyla, played by Freida Pinto, whom he marries. Pinto is not exactly the strongest player in the saga; her performance is mainly confined to a bedroom, however she serves as an extra member in the film’s young characters that wish to see a revolution and a change. 

 Black Gold thankfully avoids slipping into the trap of taking itself too seriously with the inclusion of British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed. His injections of humour keep the film refreshing and aid its representation of the young challenging the old world in which they live. 

On the whole, Black Gold delivers as an adventurous portrayal of theMiddle Eastat a tumultuous time. Its only pitfall is a slight confusion as to the period portrayed, and a distinct lack of Arab actors. Producer Ben Ammar said he didn’t want aHollywoodinterpretation of the Arab world, but with so many familiar faces is that not what he got? Whether the film portrays Arabs in a positive light is uncertain – its main themes include war, greed and a hint of the oppression of women. A decent piece of 130 minute escapism, there’s no denying the film will have you lusting for the exotic, and if you’re a bloke probably Frieda Pinto too. 

 

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.