FAMILY MOTEL (Helene Klodawsky). 87 minutes. Opens Sunday (June 22) at the Royal. See Indie and Rep Listings. Rating: NNN
What might have been a powerful social drama ends up as nothing special thanks to a timid story that avoids dramatic highs and leaves its characters unchanged at the end.
Somalian refugee Ayan and her two daughters, 16-year-old Nasrah and younger sister Leila, have been in Ottawa for five years. Ayan works two jobs and sends money back home. When her husband asks for more, she sends the rent money. Eviction follows and, after some racist remarks and helpful but indifferent institutional action, she and the girls end up in overflow shelter housing: a shabby little motel room in a bad part of town. Isolation, boredom and poverty erode their spirits. Ayan gets cranky. The local pimp has his eye on the unsuspecting Nasrah.
Plot points pay off in the least dramatic ways possible, or simply evaporate. The question of sending money home gets dropped. At one point, a children’s aid worker, suspecting abuse, comes along, interviews the kids and leaves. We can see these things adding to Ayan’s stress, but they go nowhere.
Director Helene Klodawsky, who has a background in documentary, gets some okay performances from her non-professional cast. Nargis, as Ayan, and Asha Jibril, as Nasrah, are lively and comfortable on camera, but Sagal Jibril, as younger sister Leila, goes through the movie with a sullen blankness, while some of the others look uncomfortable.