Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Global Lens ’12: Pegasus

Most girls love horses, but not Zineb’s patient. The young pregnant teen is deathly afraid of the “Lord of the Horse.” Her case will disturb the hospital psychiatrist on several levels throughout Mohamed Mouftakir’s Pegasus (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2012 Global Lens showcase now underway at MoMA.

Thoroughly burned out, Zineb does not want to take on such a demanding patient, but she has no choice in the matter. When not binge-drinking or sparring with her strict but smitten boss, Zineb slowly wins the girl’s trust. Her fate appears to be intertwined with the story told in flashbacks, in which the only child of a Bedouin chief contends with thorny gender roles and an initiation ritual involving a fierce black thoroughbred. It is a childhood lived in the shadow of the Lord of the Horse, a mythical figure used to inspire and cow in equal measure.

Sort of like a sinister cousin to Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion, Pegasus presents some of the most ominous equine imagery seen on film in quite a while. Though billed as a psychological thriller, its revelations will probably not shock anyone who has seen a fair sampling of M. Night Shyamalan, David Lynch, and Stephen King movies. However, this is more about the roots of the emotional fracture than the big twist at the end. In fact, Pegasus forthrightly depicts the misogyny faced by young Bedouin women, deliberately kept illiterate and subservient by their traditional Islamic society.

Mouftakir creates an eerie vibe, tapping into something rotten at the core of the characters’ collective psyche. He freely blurs the nature of ostensive reality, but some social actualities are inescapable. Cinematographer Xavier Castro also nicely captures the mysterious atmosphere of the exotic Bedouin environment and the coldly ominous clinic. Frankly, Pegasus looks exactly like what one might expect of a Moroccan film.

It also relies on a strong ensemble of varying ages, convincingly playing characters whose relationships to each other are often kept obscure. Saadia Ladib is quite compelling as the haunted Zineb, while Abdelatif Chaouqui develops some intriguing ambiguities as her severe boss. However, the accomplished Moroccan actor Driss Roukh really delivers a punch to the solar-plexus as the abusive Bedouin chief.

Despite sharing a visual kinship with dark fantasies, Pegasus is a tragedy more than a genre picture. Yet, it is quite unsettling and rather chilling at times. Definitely for discriminating cineastes, it is a powerful cinematic statement, highly recommended when it screens this Saturday (1/21) and next Thursday (1/26) as part of this year’s Global Lens, now underway in New York at the Museum of Modern Art.