Review: Desert Wind

Desert Wind

No man is a desert—or so this flat documentary by François Kohler would have us believe. The film suggests a hippie psychotherapist’s pitch for a reality program, and if this were Survivor the winner would be the one who risks the most self-exposure. The contestants are a group of men—from “civilized” countries like Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and France—who trek through the Tunisian section of the Sahara while bemoaning the wear and tear to their holy masculine empire. The press notes suggest the proliferation of feminist values is partly to blame for their crisis, but this isn’t exactly an angle the film’s homosocial psych session pounds out. Journeying across the desert, though, the psychological enemas these men give each other do seem to ease the grip their women have on their balls; fittingly, the ritual ends with each man getting in front of the group, showing the others their family jewels, and celebrating their altered states. These men are a tender lot—not a single Cro-Magnon in the group (they blame themselves as much as they blame their wives, exes, and mothers)—but it’d be easier to sympathize with them if Kohler made permissible a glimpse of these men’s lives before arriving in Tunisia or indicated what kind of effect their group therapy will have on them after leaving the desert. And just as the narration by Michel Langlois annoyingly feigns obliviousness to the project’s transcendental aim (he says the men “are not going anywhere”—the final cleansing suggests otherwise), so does Kohler’s non-inquisitive imagery fail to rationalize and exploit the desert’s mystery. (You get a sense the Sahara could have been replaced with a boxing ring and the group therapy’s endgame might have been the same.) Does the locale represent some kind of neutral scientific setting—or is it a place man might be able to mistake the bones of a dead camel for Adam’s rib? I’ll take Beau Travail, thanks.

 Director: François Kohler  Screenwriter: François Kohler  Running Time: 79 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2005

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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