Not everyone in the black Christian and north-African Muslim communities of Paris that comprise the milieu of Rachid Djaidani’s Rengaine oppose intermarriage between the two groups, but enough do to make things considerably difficult for the film’s would-be couple. Detailing the troubles facing the Algerian Sabrina (Sabrina Hamida) and her fiancé, a struggling black actor named Dorcy (Stéphane Soo Mongo), after word of their impending nuptials makes the rounds of the north-African neighborhood where Sabrina’s family lives, the film complicates matters by juxtaposing the prevailing disgust with a range of more tempered viewpoints. But as Djadiani reaches for some last-minute, dramatic soul-searching on the part of one of his most skeptical characters, Rengaine can’t overcome its sketch-like quality, which rarely allows it to transcend the superficial grounding of its Romeo and Juliet narrative.
While it may not uncover profound observations about the film’s environment, Djadiani’s vivid aesthetic, characterized by elliptical storytelling, ultra-turbulent street-level camerawork, and clipped editing, isn’t without its charms. Capturing both the bustling Parisian streets and the charged encounters between different ethnic groups that take place there, Djaidani imbues his setting with a vibrant pulse, while the performance-art projects Dorcy participates in for money—such as allowing himself to be covered in what looks like shaving cream—show the ways in which white artists exploit his blackness for easy social commentary.
The societal observations in Djaidani’s film, though, aren’t too much more complex than those of the parodied performance artists, though the movie does have its dashes of insight. In one telling scene, one of Sabrina’s 40 brothers, a coterie of family members charged with “protecting” her, talks with a black Muslim friend. Without realizing that he’s giving offense, he tells the friend that he would oppose him marrying his sister as well, thus revealing the deeply entrenched racism in the Algerian community that transcends questions of religion or camaraderie. But such moments are altogether rare in the film. Far more telling are the somewhat easy ironies of Slimane (Slimane Dazi), the leader of the 40 brothers, falling in love with a Jewish woman, even as he continues to oppose his sister’s wedding to someone of another race and religion. While this community-hopping romance allows Slimane the opportunity to rethink his position, it only points up the film’s prior lack of interest in delving too deeply into the personalities of any of its characters, a directorial decision that was fine as long as Djaidani was jumping from one energetic street scene to another, but one that can’t be so easily reversed in a last ditch attempt at adding emotional weight to the proceedings.