A modern-day love-story/hostage drama set against a stunning desert backdrop, Estonian writer/director Kadri Kõusaar’s new film Deserted is a gently absorbing story of an unlikely love affair between two people from different cultural backgrounds who find an emotional bond despite being captor and captive.
Kõusaar brings an astute photographer’s eye to her film, which was shot on location in Jordan and features striking lead performances by Ali Suliman and Jessica Grabowsky as the mis-matched couple who find love in the desert.
Grabowsky stars as 40 year-old Swedish photo-journalist Ingrid, out on assignment and who finds herself kidnapped by three Palestinian men, taken deep into the desert and held until a ransom is paid. When talking to an elderly woman just after she has being involved in the genital mutilation of a teenage girl, still holding the bloody razor, Ingrid asks her:” Aren’t you worried about it being illegal.” The woman responds – as a precursor of sorts to the rest of the film – that “here in the desert we have our own laws”.
Kidnapped from her hotel room, Ingrid is drugged and taken to a ramshackle building in the desert. Gang leader Moussa insists she will be ransomed despite her telling him she is neutral and her government does not negotiate with terrorists and that her family and friends are not wealthy. “We are not terrorists,” he replies. “The money is to build hospitals and provide water for people.”
But while Moussa is away she finds herself bonding with the gentle and intelligent Ali (the ever-consistent Ali Suliman delivering a fine performance) and at the hour mark the film makes its change of directed as the couple start a passionate but also rather tender romance. But Ali's leader Moussa starts to suspect that something is going on and becomes increasingly dangerous and violent and both Ingrid and Ali have to try and deal with the complex emotions their relationship brings to the surface.
More than a film about Stockholm Syndrome, Deserted is about what happens when desperate emotions run high. The desert offers harsh and challenging conditions for Ingrid though the clear light and dry beauty also provides a place for reflection and change. As Kõusaar said:” It is in the desert where the soul becomes naked and what really matters comes to the surface.”
Estonia-Sweden-Finland, 2021, 92mins
Dir/scr: Kadri Kõusaar
Production: Meteoriit Ou
International sales: Eyewell
Producers: Aet Laigu, Maria Larsson Guerpillon, Essi Haukkamaa, Charlotte Most, Merja Ritola
Cinematography: Sten-Johan Lill
Editor: Menno Revall
Music: Bj Nilsen
Main cast: Ali Suliman, Jessica Grabowsky, Leanne Katkhuda, Magnus Krepper, Nadeem Rimawi, Firas Taybeh, Frida Westerdahl