Black Gold (12 –Dir: Jean-Jacques Annaud – Stars: Mark Strong, Antonio Banderas, Tahar Rahim, Freida Pinto)
A desert land where an uneasy truce exists between Arab tribes.
As a surety for peace Amar (Strong) gives his two sons to rival Nesbib (Banderas), and a barren landscape called The Yellow Band is declared no-man’s land.
It is under this Yellow Band that Texan oil prospectors then discover oil, and the peace which had been so carefully constructed begins to disintegrate.
One son, the peaceable Prince Auda (Rahim) must take up arms and choose between two enemies: his father, and the man who raised him.
Black Gold is an interesting idea: the destruction of a historic and honourable Arabic social model brought about by greed for oil dollars.
Annaud, who directed Enemy at the Gate and Seven Years in Tibet, achieves a fresh and cliché-free take on desert life and the strong cast carry the fast moving story well. Banderas is a slightly over-acted prince, but Strong brings to the role his customary intensity.
The Last Hunter (15 – Dir: Jacques Malaterre – Stars: Simon Paul Sutton, Aruna Shields)
Ao (Sutton), pronounced ‘how’ but with a dropped h, is a Neanderthal man struggling to survive in a frozen landscape.
His family, which amounts to his clan, is massacred by a competing clan.
He has no alternative but to walk, and he vaguely sets off to find his brother, from whom he was separated when he was nine.
On the journey he meets a clan of homo sapiens, slender of face and smarter of intellect – us, as descendants of this line - but their ‘advance’ has led to a detachment from nature and any guiding humanity, which Ao still possesses.
He takes up with Aki, a homo sapien woman cast out by her clan.
Their struggle to survive is just starting.
The film deals with prejudice and tolerance, and hints at the beginnings of our superior talent for petty violence.
It’s aided by a nicely judged commentary explaining the grunting early language and motivations of the characters.
You’ll need to overcome a slight impulse to snicker at the concept.