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The Last Queen (La Derniere Reine)

French Algerian epic historical drama tells the story of Princess Zaphira, wife of the last King of Algiers Salim Toumi - from the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival


Hailed as “the first Algerian costume drama” ever made, this romanticised drama takes place in early 16th century Algiers, as the Kingdom grapples with a brutal invasion from the Spanish conquistadores. In the film’s first scene, a pirate called Aruj Barbarossa (Dali Benssalah) attempts to liberate his people his people from their occupiers, but instead loses an arm, faints and nearly succumbs to his wound. The battle scenes are extremely violent, with fighters on the ground and on horseback frantically swinging and rattling their swords, and copious amounts of blood gushing out in just about every direction, for several minutes.

The titular queen (played by the director Bendimerad) is the wife of King Salim Toumi (Tahar Zaoui) and the mother of a young son. Barborossa and King Salim strike a cooperation pact after they eventually defeat their occupiers. One evening, Zaphira has a premonitory dream that her husband is strangled, and that indeed becomes his fate (he is mysteriously murdered in the Turkish bath). Aruj then rises to power, and he is determined to take Zaphira as his wife. But the strong-willed and dignified woman refuses to accept his advances. Her number one priority is to keep her son safe and by her side. What happens next is a fairly predictable story of honour, sacrifice, fighting and death. You’ve seen it a million time before.

The Last Queen claims to tell Algerian history from the perspective of an empowered female protagonist. Yet this is hardly a feminine movie. Instead, the director’s gaze feels very masculine, with copious violence and few subtleties. Male co-director Damien Ounouri is on his third feature, while actress-turned-director Adila Bendimerad is getting behind the camera for the first time. Perhaps Ounouri’s directorial experience outweighed Bendimerad’s novice skills.

For viewers used to Hollywood costumes and advanced CGI, The Last Queen looks like a children’s school play. The production values of this low-budget film are fairly poor. Some scenes (particularly the fight ones) look infantile, and often invite eyerolls. If you don’t have much money, you should either keep your movie simple or find innovative solutions, instead of pretending that you are making a big blockbuster. The Last Queen is indeed an ambitious film, however it is barely audacious. On the contrary: it is very formulaic. I cannot comment on historical accuracy, but I very much doubt this flick is concerned with the reliability of its facts. It’s far preoccupied with heroic antics and romantic platitudes.

The Last Queen just premiered in the Official Competition of the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival. Despite having premiered at Venice Days three months ago, this movie is unlikely to feature prominently in the European film circuit, and it is even less likely to reach wider audiences in the UK.

By Victor Fraga - 05-12-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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