There’s a terrific moment in “143 Sahara Street” when a visitor to Malika
’s isolated teahouse in the Algerian desert pretends to be a prisoner on the other side of the metal grated window, and Malika cracks up laughing from the role-play. Before then, Hassen Ferhani
’s attractive observational documentary has done pretty much everything we expect it to do since the opening shot: The camera will basically stay put, the enigmatic protagonist — Malika — will win our hearts and the Sahara light will create endlessly picturesque variations on an immovable canvas. But that one unanticipated scene changes the dynamic, making Malika not just the passive rural subject of a sophisticated director but a playful co-conspirator in the act of portraiture. More focused than Ferhani’s well-received debut, “Roundabout in My Head,” his latest resulted in Locarno
’s best emerging director award and should help draw more attention to this talented filmmaker.