LAFF Review: ‘NAMOUR’ captures LA’s aimless angst, not much else

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

NAMOUR  |  80 min  | NR
Directed by: Heidi Saman
Starring: Karim SalehWaleed ZuaiterNicole Haddad, Wedad Abdel Aziz Abdou, Melina Lizette

Have you ever wondered what the secret life of a Los Angeles-area valet is like? Probably not. If you have, what you imagined is likely much more interesting than director Heidi Saman’s debut feature film, NAMOUR. When SEINFELD’s “The Smelly Car” episode (“the ‘O’ usually stays with the ‘B’!”) yields more resonant, universal impact than this film – something that’s evident about ten minutes in – you know you’re in trouble as an audience member. Amateur and glacially-paced, the angsty drama feels aimless, remedial and rote.

Steven Bassem (Karim Saleh) is a twenty-something Arab-American who spends his nights as a valet at an elite LA area restaurant. By day, he feels the pull of his once tight-knit family, who are currently experiencing a shake-up when Mom announces she’s selling the house. Because he’s stuck in a dead-end job and is generally unhappy with his life’s direction, Steven then begins to act out erratically, getting a co-worker fired and sticking his hand in a bonfire (it’s a METAPHOR!).

The film’s cold open, with a random hot lady hitting on Steven, yields so much promise for a story we never get. Same goes for the electric 80’s style font used for the opening credits, set over visuals of our hero driving around the LA streets. It’s like we’re passengers along for the journey. It’s just too bad we never get out of the backseat and into the driver’s seat. Saman’s narrative takes a long time to develop – and not in any interesting or engrossing manner either. It takes Steven until the forty minute mark to frame his co-worker and then another twenty-five minutes until he puts his hand in the fire. Saman may have effortlessly captured his dissatisfaction (which parallels stereotypical LA malaise), however, it’s never clear why he doesn’t change direction. The character’s cultural background should add relevance, yet there’s barely any flavor imparted. None of the family members are particularly memorable.

Karim Saleh in NAMOUR.

Karim Saleh in NAMOUR.

Many kudos on the diverse ensemble – faces we don’t often see in cinema – but Saman squanders the talent as she doesn’t give supporting characters much to do. Steven’s sister Tamara (Nicole Haddad) graduates school and struggles with her family’s decisions, but we don’t get to explore her psyche. Any of the scenes with Steven’s dad Namour (Wedad Abdel Aziz Abdou) are ham-handed. The scene where he and girlfriend Gabi (Melina Lizette) walk in the park is endless rather than endearing. This film is left in clear, desperate need of richness, warmth and an empathetic protagonist.

NAMOUR played the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 5, 8 and 9.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.