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Unjustly forgotten (no comments at all in IMDb), GOHA is a beautifully made French film, shot in Tunisia by late, great French filmmaker Jacques Baratier. It's long overdue for a first-class video revival.
Very early in his career Omar Sharif takes the title role, a layabout who all the townsfolk know by his faithful companion, a donkey. Movie is presented as a "tragic love story" as part of oral history, as everyone crowds around to listen to the storyteller recount Goha's fate.
Goha's donkey strays into the daily caravan of learned men heading for the university, and everyone is surprised at the "donkey who went to school". This begins Goha's saga, as he is taken under the wing of a great scholar and local major domo Tal-el-Ouloum (Lauro Gazzolo), but gets into deep trouble when he falls in love with the beautiful young betrothed Fulia of his elder.
Picture is brimming with foreign folkways and culture, gently told but with some punch, as when Goha becomes a pariah after his crossing the line romance is revealed. The tragic ending is presented in a wistful fashion that I found quite moving.
Already showing the magnetism and combination of naturalism/theatricality that won him the career-making role in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA several years later, Sharif is a spellbinding presence, especially fascinating to watch now that we've seen him in scores of other roles. Daniel Emilfork, the talisman actor of many a great horror movie, is perfectly cast as the blind oracle-figure, who is Goha's chief companion next to the donkey.
The donkey is not overly anthropomorphised, but a principal character nonetheless. Zina Bouzaiade is a beautiful love interest as Fulia, while her sister is played by Claudia Cardinale, already striking as a teenager starting her classic (and essential) movie career -she would be blessed to participate in many of the most enduring European classics in the decades to come.
Camera-work by Jean Bourgoin is exemplary, and provides an early apprentice assignment for Andreas Winding, who would become my favorite French d.p. until his untimely death in 1977.
Baratier was an avant garde director, best known for classics DESORDRE (a short featuring a who's who of '40s French cultural figures) and LA POUPEE. I always thought he was under-appreciated, as his film SWEET AND SOUR, once a staple in the revival houses, is the epitome of the Nouvelle Vague; in fact one of his later films PIEGE has been on my Want to See list for 4 decades now. Hopefully the buffs outside France will seek out his work.
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