Soft colours fade slowly in and out of focus. The peaks of impossibly high mountains are covered in white cloudy sheets that perpetually haunt the high altitudes. The colours slowly blur into a cream-coloured object that spirals smoothly outwards: an African snail shell, once thought lost to the sands of time. The fragile lines that skirt across the surface of the shell have been thinly carved. It looks like it’s been lovingly crafted by a divine hand.
Ghazala tells the story of a snail shell that was once used to polish pottery in the North Algerian mountains. These shells were discovered during an archaeological dig in the early 20th century. The shell holds a special significance in pottery – and to the potter. His very livelihood depends on it. The shell helps to smooth out the pot’s surface, removing blemishes and producing fine curves. As it sits in the palm of the hand, the shell also reveals the subtle power it has over the potter’s life. The film itself is based on a short story that was in turn influenced by the archaeological discovery. The crowdfunded project was filmed on location in the mountains of South Peloponnese, Greece (The British Home Office had warned against all but essential travel to Algeria), but this never affects the film’s atmosphere; it is beautifully shot. Filmed by Alex Kozobolis, it glows with the innocuous innocence of youth and the sheer thrill of a discovery. The mountainous vistas and the rural greens are a perfect backdrop, but they’re also integral to the film and its story. Ghazala is a young girl who still has much to learn about her father’s trade. Naturally, a young girl might think of the shell as a toy when it’s anything but, and her father is quick to make that point…
“This isn’t a toy. It clothes us, it feeds us.”
The shell is an object of immense power, and it requires a great deal of respect. Without it, the beautiful lines would be irregular and sharp, and that in turn damages the pot’s aesthetic and financial value. The shell spirals and circles in and around the lives of the people. Every character has a purpose. Likewise, the ambient-classical music of Harry Edwards, who has scored the film, has been touched by warmth and purpose. A piano rolls around in the green hills. Enchanted strings intertwine with the sparse, largely undisturbed landscape. As the strings swell for the first time, an absolutely gorgeous view comes into focus. The music is engraved into the land. Concealed gems lie inside the film and its music. It’s a charming film, but it also tells the important story of a time centuries ago. This tool was vital to the community, and vital for work. It was treasured; it was precious.