Larger-than-life characters populate director Nejib Belkadhi’s spellbinding combination of film noir and magic realism, which follows a downtrodden orphan — now grown but still saddled with a cruel nickname — who has a reversal of fortune and takes on the thugs who control his ghetto.
At just a few months old, Mohsen (Monoom Chouayet) is rescued from a restaurant garbage container by Am Salah (Issa Harath), who takes him home to his slum and raises him as his son. Salah could not, however, save Mohsen from the disgrace of being regarded as a bastard and saddled with the nickname "Bastardo."
Years later, Bastardo has a reversal of fortune when a mobile phone company installs a relay tower on top of his modest house in exchange for a substantial monthly stipend. Encouraged by his friend Khlifa (Taoufik El Bahri), he begins to capitalize on his new situation and wrest control over the neighborhood from a gang of thugs led by his childhood friend Larnouba (Chedly Arfaoui).
Bastardo is a contemporary allegory on the corruptive nature of power, set in a ruthless Tunisian ghetto and peppered with mysterious, larger-than-life characters — some of whom have supernatural powers. The combination of noir and magic realism elements is seamless, a testament to director Nejib Belkadhi's masterful ability to create a spellbinding, coherent and subjective universe. He's supported by strong performances from his cast, especially Lassaad Ben Abdallahin a gender-crossing role as Khadhra, the sadistic matron who controls Larnouba and animates his worst instincts.
Without pedantry or didacticism, Bastardo
tells of the cruel illusions of "progress."