“Animalia” is a spiritual and meditative science fiction film with mystical qualities. In her feature directorial debut, Sofia Laoui (who also wrote the screenplay) explores faith, class prejudice, and societal constraints in a well-acted and beautifully constructed film. It’s hypnotic, unique, and makes a bold statement about the harm that religion and the patriarchal status quo causes both women and men.

Itto (Oumaïma Barid) is pregnant and living with her affluent husband in their opulent home. When he is called away on business, the young woman is thrilled to have some time to herself. It’s not long before several menacing weather-related (and possibly supernatural) events occur and a mysterious state of emergency is declared. Alone and in need of help, Itto sets out to reunite with her husband. What she finds are new options and a freedom that she previously assumed had been closed to her forever.

Laoui’s story is one of faith, and her lead character is very religious. This leads to many contemplative scenes that bring the film’s pacing to a halt. The more interesting themes come from the fact that Itto has married into a world of privilege and comfort, trapped in a conservative family structure where she doesn’t fit in. It’s revealed that she didn’t grow up wealthy and when stranded alone, Itto becomes free of the societal pressures and class compositions that have stifled her options in her chosen life.

There’s a rustic elegance to the cinematography that complements Laoui’s eye for directing, and there are so many shots that are impressive and memorable. You wouldn’t expect a small film like this to look as terrific as it does, but the visuals have an existential surrealism that really set the mood. The look of the film really captures a feeling that’s echoed in the script, and all of it is assembled beautifully.

“Animalia” still feels too long, especially with such a small-scale story. The vagueness of the characters may frustrate some viewers, especially because so much is left up to your own interpretation. We never learn much about Itto’s history, and Laoui never shows us any extraterrestrial beings. But there’s something very creative and different here that keeps it interesting.

By: Louisa Moore

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