Ali (Adam Bessa) scrapes a living hawking gasoline from a jerry can on the side of the street in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. He had hoped to better himself, to find opportunities overseas. But the death of his debt-ridden father has left him with the responsibility of caring for his younger sisters. And despair clings to him along with the smell of petrol and the oil that stains his clothes and skin.
Loosely inspired by the case of disfranchised Tunisian street hawker Mohamed Bouazizi, who in 2010 set himself alight as a protest at government corruption and societal indifference, this is an unflinching and powerful piece of Arabic-language film-making. While the symbolism can land a little heavily at times, Bessa’s fiercely committed performance and the palpable anger in the storytelling are the picture’s driving force.