In a residential part of Amman, Jordan, where the whitened buildings are built so close to each other the streets are little more than the alleys of the title, a number of interrelated stories unfold revealing a complex skein of lives woven together. Writer-director Bassel Ghandour’s feature debut represents the kind of criss-crossing ensemble piece that does well on the festival circuit (indeed, it recently played at the BFI London film festival), all the more so here as Jordanian cinema hasn’t yet established the same kind of exportable appeal as other Middle Eastern countries.
However, with a bit more scrutiny it doesn’t hold up quite so well, even if some of the performances, particularly from Maisa Abd Elhadi and Nadira Omran sinking their teeth into properly meaty characters, are terrific. At first, the story seems to revolve around small-time chancer Ali (Emad Azmi), who steers gullible tourists to nightclub fleshpots where they will spend big on drink and sex workers. The venue gives him a cut of their profits, but local kingpin Abaas (Monzer Reyahnah) takes against him and doesn’t want him darkening the door of the places he controls. Meanwhile, Ali is secretly seeing Lana (Baraka Rahmani), the naïve daughter of local hairdresser Aseel (Nadira Omran). However, someone is secretly filming Ali and Lana’s trysts from afar and using the video to blackmail Aseel, who turns to Abaas and his top henchwoman Hanadi (Abd Elhadi, coiled like a cobra throughout) for help.
We’re presumably meant to be rooting for a central romantic couple who turn out to be less than likable, but there’s not quite enough blackness to the comedy to let that slide. And when the revelation about who the blackmailer is finally arrives – after lots of mishaps with scissors, bags of banknotes and assorted violent shenanigans – it’s a big disappointment, with plot points just left dangling. So despite the good work beforehand, the film doesn’t stick the landing.
• The Alleys is released on 5 December on digital platforms.