How responsible are we when we see an injustice happen and we do nothing? Karim Moussaoui, an Algerian writer/director, presents three perspectives on this in his masterpiece, “Until the Birds Return.” Three life strands are juxtaposed, each with their parallels and eventually their congruence in this exceptional drama taking place in Algiers.
The Detached Man Who Can’t Make a Call
Story #1 involves an older man who stops by to speak to his son who has left medical school and has no motivation. He stays to eat dinner with his ex-wife. On his route home to his younger new wife, he meets up with a detour and witnesses a gruesome murder. He is too afraid to use his cell phone to report what’s happening and too detached to report it later to the police.
The Prestigious Neurologist Who Does Not Take a Stand
Story #2 involves a middle-aged doctor whose wedding is imminent. But the day before his celebration an old friend confronts him with a story a woman is reporting in a nearby village. She has been given a hut, clothes, and food by her sympathetic neighbors since the war. Everyone knows she was gang-raped, ended up pregnant, and disowned by her family. But what she now is telling the villagers is that the prestigious doctor at the hospital was among the rapists.
He visits the woman to learn why she is telling this outrageous story. But then he remembers when, during the war, he had been called in as a doctor, seen her gang-raped and drug across the dirt to a second hut for repeated abuse by another group of men. They made eye contact. He did not tell the men to stop and he did not report the incident.
The Beautiful Young Woman Who Chooses Money Over Love
Story #3 brings the other two stories about the men together. A young, slender, beautiful young woman dressed in hijab and jeans is getting married. However, she still loves an earlier boyfriend and it is that man her father has paid to chauffeur them to the doctor’s town for her marriage.
What They Have in Common
All three stories have a detour, a hospital, and an injustice. All three have hidden something.
Is there guilt? Is there remorse? Is there retribution? Is there relief? Is there love?
In my mind, I am even asking something more. Is doing nothing the same as doing wrong? When my neighbor is hurt and I do nothing, am I responsible for the outcome? When I ignore injustice in my family, community, nation, or the world, at what point do I become complicit?
I can’t help but think the title, “Until the Birds Return” foreshadows a karmic aspect that creates a situation similar to the adage about stewing in your own juice.
Though previously released in Algeria and Europe in 2017, “Until the Birds Return” opens in the US on April 28, 2020.
Director: Karim Moussaoui
Writers: Karim Moussaoui and Maud Ameline
Cast: Aure Atika, Mohamed Djouhri, Hania Amar, Hassan Kechache, Sonia Mekkiou,
and Mehdi Ramdani
Release date: 22 May 2017 (Cannes), 28 April 2020 (USA)
Running time: 115 minutes
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